Roots and Seeds

I want the noise to stop.
Hate, fire, suffering, war;
Grief is crushing me.
The cries of nature, the wrath of the world
Plastered with lies, cold fluorescent light
And toxic platitudes.
I can’t shut it off–
And beneath the noise it’s even worse.
I open my heart and am devoured.
Every choice comes with a price:
The anguish of awareness,
Emptiness,
The hiss of a scythe.
Dark Mother reigns supreme.
She does not suffer ignorance
Or indifference;
Her love demands acknowledgment
And the courage to fall
And fall,
And fall again.
There’s no escape, for I am hers.
An old woman, spinning,
Watching.
I am not bleeding, now.
I am patient, furious and inexorable.
I am the darkness,
The reflection in a serpent’s eye,
A breath in the womb,
The resilience of life.
Here, it is cool and damp,
Roots and seeds still live
And creatures wait, held in love,
For the cleansing rain.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Introverts, Geeks and Podcasts

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstry

When I was a kid, the term “introvert” had a negative stigma, like some kind of amorphous, withering social ineptitude or something. Having quite enough insecurities, I limped along thinking that what I now know are classic introvert tendencies as bad, broken, neurotic traits easily written off to being dramatically tormented.

Nowadays, light shines upon introversion as perfectly natural. People are coming forward from the shadows and owning up to it. Dedicated Facebook pages and shit. I like to think of introverts as people who process things differently. There. Vague and yet intriguing. Even so, I still avoided the title, until I mentioned this to my therapist who, bless her soul, leaned forward in her chair and laughed like a harpy. Point taken.

Harpies in the infernal wood, Gustave Doré


So after some research, the most clinically valid “Are you an introvert?” tests I could find, and some soul searching in the dusty crypts of my youth, I joined in the harpy laughter. I’m off the charts, and while I’m still not into wearing the introvert thing around, I have learned to be aware and not bite the hand that feeds me.

Enter my quest to become a 21st century author and bring myself and my work out into the light to be seen. Toward this end, I set out to do things like interviews, ask-the-author sessions, podcasts and the like. (Anyone who gets the introvert thing should be suitably chilled by this.) My first podcast was with Jamie Davis on Fantasy Focus. Jamie is a great guy, he put me at ease and assured me that editing cures all ills. So I jumped in, geek cape flying.

Until Jamie asked me an excellent question. “So tell me about the Otherworld,” he says, with a fascinated smile in his voice. I froze and spiraled to the ground like a hero with a tragic flaw.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

There is nothing as breathtaking and terrifying as the fall of innocence. This doesn’t just happen once, you know; we’re all innocent of something. In the Tarot, this pattern is depicted as “The Fool.” Here he is, setting off on a new dream, a fresh start, he’s baked by the excitement and hope of it all but oh dear! he’s headed for that cliff edge. And there’s his little dog, the voice of his better sense, nipping at his heels saying, “Hey. Um, for what it’s worth, I think this is a lousy idea…” but who listens to that noise?

The Otherworld. I’ve built fantasy empires around it. I’m half immersed in the real thing. For my own books, particularly The Fylking, I did what many high fantasy authors do and made it vast, complex and dear to my heart — but when Jamie asked me to elaborate, all I could manage was a desolate “Uhh…” It was like standing by a deep, raging river and trying to reach out to catch a cupful. Finally, Jamie rescued me and mentioned the Fae. Oh yes, I said — the river is roaring — but, I’m thinking, but this, and that, and then there’s this other thing — I dropped the cup and watched it vanish — oh gods there’s not enough editing in the world that can save this.

Of course afterward, I spent days spinning up the most spectacular dissertations of the Otherworld you can imagine. But it was too late. The Fool was still falling, deaf to his little dog far above, barking wildly. Or so I thought. It was just fine, of course. As promised.

Now wiser, I did another podcast with the folks at The High Fantasy Podcast. I fretted over things, of course, but none of it stuck. We had an epic geekfest that warmed my soul.

Finally, I was interviewed by the wonderful E.G. Stone, in which we talked about Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. It was great fun.

In closing, here’s my thumbnail definition of the Otherworld from Outpost: Terms and Places.

Otherworld: The vast realm of the unseen existing beyond time and space; the source and reflection of physical events. Inhabited by an infinite variety of beings referred to as Others, including nature spirits, elves, goblins, phooka, planetary entities and other natural forces. This includes the Fylking, who occupy the unseen dimensions and are often, though not always, respected as gods. The Otherworld can be perceived by mortals with second sight, though interaction can be dangerous and is ill advised without training and protection. See also Fylking. See posts The Phooka, Goblins and Creepy Horses.

Others

Blessed Samhain, by the way. Heed not the laughter of harpies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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 often 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.

Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

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 summons 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.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

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

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.

A Sorcerer and His Runes

To the mind of a geeky author, “sorcery” is a rich and evocative term that could mean any number of things that may or may not have to do with traditional definitions. To this geeky author, it involves–and I quote:

An arrogant, unsavory bunch, old, flaccid and steeped in centuries of privilege and comfort, these men wielded a fine array of nasty skills particularly suited to war: detailed knowledge of demon hierarchies; a blithe willingness to use spit, blood, seed and sound to control and manipulate the natural order; and the inclination to summon every manner of freak and fiend from the Otherworld to spy, track, hold or kill anyone the sorcerers took an interest in. – The Wolf Lords

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

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 his little sister Ingifrith, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable by summoning a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a storm 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.

An unwitting votary of the Allfather, who was himself exiled for practicing the magical arts, Leofwine is handy with runes. Simple marks carved or painted on stone, wood or bone, the runes are not only an alphabet but also a sophisticated system of knowledge of patterns of consciousness and existence. Holding the power of those patterns, cast in symbols, stories and metaphor, Leofwine is able to see the forces underlying conscious experience and to use those forces to affect the web that connects all things.

As the legend tells, the god Othin goes to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and hangs himself facing down into the bottomless void beneath the roots of the well. There, he suffers in agony for nine days and nights until he sees the runes in the depths. Then he picks them up and is transformed.

By way of his wits and faults, Leofwine will do the same…runes in hand.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Laguz. The Otherworld, the primordial waters, the source, initiation, the shadows of dreams and the unconscious. Not negative in and of itself, this rune often appears when what you don’t know will hurt you.

A small leather pouch lay on the table by the hearth. Leofwine stopped, held his hand over the snarling wolf embossed on the pouch, and then flicked aside the ties and shook out a rune. The small pale bone of a hare he had killed during his apprenticeship contained a single mark with a hook on top, ridged as a knife, darkened by the blood he had spilled into the rift from his hand. Laguz. Always laguz, the power of the Otherworld, vast, fickle and implacable as the sea. The waters hid secrets, poisons and teeth.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Ansuz. The rune of Othin, the Allfather in the Fylking pantheon. Divine inspiration, magic, the power of words. Beings from the Dark Realms hate ansuz, and it is often used to banish them.

Leofwine’s spine tingled. In the corner, something scrabbled up the woodwork and across the ceiling, rustling the drying plants. It twisted around, its legs growing longer, eight of them, as it lowered itself to the floor from a glistening line. As it touched down, it grew, blocking the door and the windows with a hairy body that smelled of mud. It stared from many baleful eyes, and in the back of whatever it called a throat emerged a gurgling growl.

“Leo,” Ingifrith said, backing away. “It’s not friendly.”

A guardian. The place had always been loosely guarded by the spirits of protective herbs, like the garland someone had left on the door to his workroom. But he had never seen anything like this in here before. No Blackthorn witch would be able to summon it.

Gathering his strength, Leofwine brought his life force into his hand, traced the rune of ansuz in the air and uttered a banishing command in Old Fylking. The creature screeched and fled, landing near a table cluttered with pottery. As the creature skittered beneath, several cups wobbled and crashed to the floor. “I was afraid of this,” Leofwine said. “We have to kill it.”

She stared. “Are you mad?”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Algiz. Communication with the Otherworld, connection to the gods, protection.

Breath heaving, arms wrapped over his chest, Leofwine awaited the end. His mind was clear. “C’mon,” he grated through his teeth. In one hand, he gripped the algiz rune.

He didn’t pray. He didn’t fear.

The great wolf slammed down in a whirlwind of wrath, the tips of its black fur glinting with frost. Its breath was icy. It bared its teeth, slavering, pale eyes opaque, seeing only shadow. Mist swirled as it gathered its haunches for the kill.

“My life in exchange for death,” Leofwine said. “Kill them. Black as crows, all three, wicked as the lies of gods. They are unworthy of your kind.” His voice trembled as a lump grew in his throat. “My life for death.” He clutched the rune so hard his nails cut into the palm of his hand.

Fenrisúlfr waited.

Leofwine hung his head. A tear broke from his eye and crept down his cheek like fire. “My life to protect her.” Because I didn’t.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Hagalaz. Witch magic, banishment, the rise and rule of buried patterns, stripping veils and catastrophic transformation. When his sister vanishes into the Otherworld, Leofwine is in no way cheered by the appearance of this rune.

Leofwine stood atop a brushy knoll, facing north. Arvakr grazed by his side. A cool, early morning breeze carrying the scent of the sea stirred the leaves on the trees and the wisps of his hair twining from the edge of his hood. He clutched a wound dripping blood in one hand and hagalaz in the other. The rune burned dark against his palm.

Wherever Ingifrith had gone, she meant business. If the gods were on anyone’s side, it was hers.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Thurisaz. Misfortune, demons, opposition, persecution and the torment of women. To Leofwine, this rune makes for a very bad day.

One of the runes had landed near Leofwine’s face. Thurisaz. His throat closed up with a sick laugh that caught and died as Grimar hauled him up and slammed him against a tree. “What do your runes say, sorcerer?” He hissed the word like a curse.

Thurisaz. Breathing heavily, gazing from an eye half swollen shut, Leofwine said, “They say I should’ve hunted you down and killed you long ago.”

Grimar punched him in the stomach again. Leofwine choked, his vision going dark as he doubled over.

“Wrong.” Grimar drew his sword, wrenched Leofwine upright and pressed the blade to his throat. “They say, today you’ll lose your head.”

Not the most wholesome occupation, sorcery. But then again, it can be useful for getting out of sticky situations–as long as one remembers that the gods of sorcerers are tricksters.

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

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

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