The Trouble with Tansy

Tansel's Garden

Gardens keep secrets…especially old gardens. Orphaned and wary of magic, a young woman 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

In a huge willow tree, perched the shadowy form of a cat, oddly cloaked and sitting with one leg hanging down. It shifted like rolling water into a mink, a salamander, a frog.

Tansel lowered herself into a clumsy curtsy. “Aunt,” she said carefully, “I need your help.”

“What will you pay for it?”

Tansel hung her head. “I have nothing.” It was true. Nothing but tansy.

“You are still innocent. You must give me that.”

Tansel blinked. What did that mean? She recalled what the crone had told her years ago, about knowing the darkness. But it did not matter now. She nodded quickly.

The watery thing in the willow tree swirled down around the trunk like a snake and coiled on the ground, where it became a hovering shadow. In a voice like wind over a grave, it chanted:

“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.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Trouble with Tansy” originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman, V5-1.

This story 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.

“The Trouble with Tansy” was also the original inspiration for The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

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

Song of the Sioros

Born of gods, a larger part;
Skies above the mountains.
Wings of crows, a darker kind;
Wind between the worlds.
Maiden’s hand brings him,
Mother’s blood feeds him,
Destroyer’s smile bids him depart.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. An epic fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Chasm

Sunlight glimmered on new leaves
Stirred by a warm, fragrant breeze.
On the pads of a wolf, he moved
Over ferns, mossy stones,
The roots of ancient trees.
He followed the sound of water
And found a chasm.
It yawned before him, echoing with whispers.
He leaned over the edge
And gazed into the starless, endless Void.
“What is the true meaning of darkness?”
He looked up at the sound of his master’s voice.
On the far side of the abyss stood the Dark Warrior,
Creator of Ostarin.
The war god beckoned him to jump.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. A tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry, and love.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

These Things Three

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.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. A dark fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Yarrow, Thyme and Thorn

My woman has a wandering eye;
Yarrow, thyme and thorn.
She eyes the ocean and the sky
While stitching sails, forlorn.
I got a kiss, and then a tear
As she bade me go;
But on the waves, my heart’s in fear:
My woman’s in the know.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron. Legends of sailors and wizards collide when an Otherworld being discovers its destiny in a mortal’s imagination.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The River

The Mage's Tower

A deep river flows by the mage’s tower.
The water, gray, green and yearning for the sea,
Gropes at the foundations with swirling fingers.
Stone is patient.
The mage’s woman dips her bucket into the course;
She is weeping again.
The river catches her tears and knows
Water is more patient than stone.
Frogs call the rain;
The tide, though distant, hears all water.
The moon whispers it.
Night pours down from an unseen shroud,
Lifting the river above the reeds
To the tower stones, cold as the mage’s heart.
The river does not respond to words, gestures
Or sigils.
It cradles the woman’s boat
Like a womb,
Rising, falling, spinning her away
From the echoes of the tower’s fall.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The River” was originally published in Volume 9, Issue 4 of Tales of the Talisman. This magazine features fine writers and artists of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Check it out.

Photography Prints

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

Songs of Soft Petals

See me, see you
The mirror is dark and full of light
Show me the landscape
Tell me of moons and water
My love in motion

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From Raven of the West, a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy tale landscape of herbal lore, arcane texts, visions, and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly

An interesting thing about nature is that its humbler critters are every bit as awesome as high profile creatures such as wolves or cats. Watch things up close and the web of interconnection becomes enormous and beautifully complex. For this reason, I am captivated by the creepy crawly side of life. I would not kill a snake or knock down a hornet’s nest. I warn the frogs in the pond to avoid the cats if they know what’s good for them. I don’t mind the big spider in the kitchen window; she looks after things. And the earthworms in my compost pile are magnificent.

As all these things have their place in the woods, they also creep into my stories as actual creatures, similes or metaphors. I enjoy painting them, too. In this post we’ll visit the wise frog, conscientious spider, sneaky snake, elegant fish and crafty raven.

Frog

‘Tis not where water is a frog will be, but where a frog is water will be. ~ Traditional

Frog Medicine, by F.T. McKinstryFrogs are a staple of fairy tales. Witches tend to traffic with them; a handy, unattractive shape for a handsome prince or worse, an ingredient in a simmering cauldron. Of themselves, frogs have an otherworldly air, dwelling on the borders of earth and water, calling for rain.

Far be it for me to create a witch and not mention a frog. The following verse is uttered by a girl in trouble, and it summons a very special frog (hint: it’s not a prince).

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. – “The Trouble with Tansy,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Spider

“If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they’d have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That’d lead ‘em right! That’s all I’m sayin’.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Spider Web, by F.T. McKinstryI have a great deal of respect for spiders. They are good at what they do and they are elegant about it. A common human phobia is named after them as a result. It’s a primordial thing. I wouldn’t harm a spider out of hand, but if one got on me I would scream like the girl I am and not be ashamed.

A well-placed spider will demand one’s immediate attention. Lorth of Ostarin, a protagonist in The Chronicles of Ealiron, bears a scar from a spider bite that nearly killed him. Being an assassin, he appreciates hunters and creatures of the dark side. Perhaps this is why a wisewoman dragged him out of the swamp and saved his life.

He had not known the face of his own death before that, though he knew death in every part of his nature, being the hand that so often dealt it. Now, the spider bite lived in his body as a presence just below the surface of thought. It sensed the nature of events around him, and intensified when anything came along to which he needed to attend.The Hunter’s Rede

Snake

I’m a tiger when I want love, but I’m a snake if we disagree. ~ Jethro Tull

Ribbon Snake, by F.T. McKinstryI once kept a ribbon snake named Kali. I knew she was female because she gave birth shortly after I acquired her. Extraordinary creature; smooth as silk, silent, patient, and breathtakingly fast when she wanted to be. She ate live goldfish.

In myths and legends the snake is an ambivalent being, portrayed as both wicked and wise. It is associated with the Otherworld, as it can vanish into hidden places and replace its skin, a symbol of rebirth. In the following excerpt, the snake provides a visual for a dark place that serves as the Otherworld for a time.

Water rose, echoing in a hollow space. Black and slick as the gullet of a snake, the jaws of the cavern enveloped a small light, a candle in the vastness of mortal despair. A soul flowed out as the sea flowed in, driven by the unnatural wrath of the storm.The Gray Isles

Fish

Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
Why, as men do a-land: the great ones eat up the little ones.
~ William Shakespeare, Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Fish Kingdom, by F.T. McKinstryI’m an aquarium geek. If you ever want to discover firsthand how smart nature is, try setting up a tank with fishes and live plants and keep them thriving. In the natural world, there is a balance between them, a symbiotic relationship that depends on countless variables difficult to replicate. I don’t look at my pond in quite the same way anymore. I am in awe of it.

Fishes make lovely impressions. A sensitive, calm, and sinuous creature reflecting the qualities of water itself, a fish is hidden beneath the surface, ruling the depths. In the following excerpt, one of my characters is transforming into a creature of the sea—and becoming personally familiar with the nature of fishes.

Like a fish startled by a vibration in the water, his nocturnal senses flitted into edged focus, sidelong, obscure, and hunted.The Gray Isles

Raven

I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech. ~ Taliesin

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstryA raven is not exactly creepy or crawly, unless you consider that birds evolved from reptiles. But like the snake or the spider, the raven gets points for being emotionally controversial. Mythology and literature abound with raven lore, associating these birds with wolves, death and trickery. Dark, mysterious and incredibly intelligent, the raven is also linked with healing and initiation, processes that tend to usher mortals into the void.

The raven holds a special place in my universe: the symbol for the highest Order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchy of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. The following excerpt involves a mysterious wizard of this order. Folks say he can turn back time, talk to apple trees and change himself into a wolf or a snowstorm.

Tansel’s home faded quickly behind as she hurried after the Raven of Muin. He had said something to Mushroom in a weird tongue that somehow convinced the cat to stay close. Tansel had a harder time keeping up. With remarkable agility for one so old, the wizard moved through the forest like something wild, graceful, and alert to the presence of predators. He took no path or common road. His presence had all the physical immediacy of a dream, reminding Tansel that he had appeared from thin air in the center of her garden.The Winged Hunter

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Root and Stone
Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Solar Breath

Frost Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

I have always loved the idea of naming the full moons. Traditionally, these names reflect nature through the seasons, and vary with history and culture; for example, between English Medieval, Norse, Celtic or Native American. This beautiful lore gives rise to visual and emotional impressions, the province of the moon itself.

While working on The Chronicles of Ealiron, I wrote and illustrated a series of verses to capture the essence of each cycle using tree, plant and animal lore. This is called solaeson, which in the wizards’ tongue means “the solar breath.” Some day these verses will find a home in the series.

In celebration of the Celtic New Year, I’ve begun with November.

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.