The Spooky Forest

WWG Print Cover Art

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

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

Wizards, Woods and Gods

WWG Print Cover Art

The Otherworld takes shape in this collection of twelve stories told on a rich, fairytale tapestry of swords, sorcery, romance, dreams, visions and verse. Some of these stories inspired my novels; others were inspired by them; and some take place in the same worlds. Many of these stories have been published in fantasy/scifi magazines.

This second edition, available in ebook and print, includes Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world featured in the Chronicles of Ealiron. Also included are “Earth Blood,” “The Om Tree,” and “Pattern Sense,” which are available on Smashwords for free. The first edition ebook of Wizards, Woods and Gods was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2012; and Water Dark was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Click on the following stories for illustrations and excerpts.

Earth Blood – The earth keeps secrets. A warrior discovers ancient power in his veins when he’s plunged into the political corruption of a war devised to hide the truth of his mother’s death.

The Om Tree – Trees know things. A tree planted by a god at the dawn of a forest and raised in close proximity to an energy well beneath a wizards’ citadel knows a great many things. In this story, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Pattern Sense – It all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

The War God Sleeps – When a lush, fertile land is seized by drought, a lonely hermit’s son ventures deep into the hills in search of water and there awakes a beautiful, yet terrible god whom the world has learned to live without.

The Fifth Verse – An ancient immortal entity defies the rules of her kind by falling in love with a mortal warrior, an indiscretion that leaves her grieving, pregnant and dependent on the help of a wizard whose army was responsible for the death of her beloved.

Deathseer – Under the influence of a mysterious observatory, the commander of a fearsome army is trapped in a conflict that eventually costs him his honor and the life of his brother, and drives him to accept an inborn magical ability that changes his destiny.

The Trouble with Tansy – An orphaned girl on the threshold of womanhood inherits a splendid, mysterious garden from three generations of wisewomen. When a roguish wizard attempts to impress her by disrupting the seasons, she must turn to the old powers for help.

Marked – The mother of a fey child learns the pitfalls of mingling with immortals when her boy is taken by a ferocious winged monster at the request of the god who fathered him.

Eating Crow – A masterful, wayward shapeshiftress angers a wizard who curses her by summoning a diabolical immortal hunter that puts her near death and forces her to seek the wizard’s cat, a gentle, mystical creature that alone can heal her wounds.

The Bridge – A visionary who spent her life preparing for a planetary alignment that will materialize a beautiful nature spirit only she can perceive, descends into her blackest fears when she is abandoned to a war for which she is indirectly responsible.

The Origin – A woodsman discovers that he is a god who created everything around him to know the love of a woman whose mortality drives him to the brink of annihilation.

Water Dark – In the calm deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. This novella is a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover ArtSecond Edition
175 pages
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Story Illustrations
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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Of Mice and Swordsmen

Dormouse
I live in the woods. Mice are a way of life, and while I’ve always had ferocious hunting cats, mice are very resourceful, especially in the fall when they’re looking for winter shelter. Who can blame them? Winter is nasty, here.

You could make an interesting psychological study some 3AM, wide awake staring at the ceiling, listening to a mouse chewing on something, who knows what, insulation, wiring, rafters; it’s stockpiling caches, building nests, making baby mice–the sucker is at least a foot long, has to be–yes, you could be the Great Shaman of all Wildlife Lovers but after imagining the horrible results of nocturnal mouse business you’ll be capable of anything.

Pattern Sense Cover ArtA while back, I wrote a little story called Pattern Sense, about a knitter who discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman. I wasn’t being tormented by mice at the time (past trauma maybe), but in a vivid description of the aforementioned scenario, I came up with the perfect impetus for my protagonist to discover the extent of her skill.

If a mouse in the middle of the night can’t bring out a woman’s hidden powers, nothing can.

You can download Pattern Sense for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense made it to the second round finals with Daily Science Fiction, and then I published it in Tales of the Talisman. And then, something magical happened. This story, it seemed, was a glimpse of a full blown novel. This began to unfold and eventually became Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. In that story, there is more to our knitter’s power than mere hedge witchery; and the love between her and the swordsman goes to dark places indeed, a subplot driven by sorcery, treachery, war, and even the gods themselves.

Who knew? Mice have a good place in my life after all. Besides, they are cute.

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.

Three Quick Fantasy Reads

Free stories

For your reading pleasure, three of my stories are now on Kindle Unlimited. These tales are very short and pack a punch—wizards, warriors, assassins, witches, ravens, mice, war, love and mayhem.

WWG Print Cover ArtThese three stories are also included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

Available on Amazon (Kindle and Paperback), Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Smashwords.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Pattern Sense

Driven by the nocturnal activities of a mouse, a knitter discovers a strange power in the stitches of her latest knitting project. But when her heart is broken, she learns that love is more powerful than even the strengths and pitfalls of the earth’s own magic.

ISBN 9781310979842
3500 words
Amazon
Goodreads

Earth Blood

The earth keeps secrets. A warrior discovers an ancient power in his veins when he’s plunged into the political corruption of a war devised to hide the truth of his mother’s death.

ISBN 9781310981081
1950 words
Amazon
Goodreads

The Om Tree

Trees know things. A tree planted by a god at the dawn of a forest and raised in close proximity to an energy well beneath a wizards’ citadel knows a great many things. In this tale, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

ISBN 9781310244094
2100 words
Amazon
Goodreads

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

Norse Mythology and the Voices in My Head

Odin Rides to Hel

I was a Tolkien geek as a kid, in the 70s. There were no epic movies back then — well okay there was that 1978 version that thoroughly offended me — but anyway, Lord of the Rings changed my life. I knew Tolkien was influenced by Northern European mythology but I didn’t jump into that at the time. I was busy being distracted by every fantasy, science fiction and occult book I could get my hands on. The Norse gods came later.

My favorite character in LOTR was Gandalf. This isn’t a cute statement reflecting the innocence of youth. My fascination with Gandalf was archetypal. The first time I read LOTR and the wizard fell into the chasm in Moria with the Balrog, I was shattered. Seriously. A part of me went in there too and while now I smile fondly because I was just a sensitive kid, I’ll admit that scene still gets to me.

The Raven God

It is extensively remarked upon that Gandalf was inspired by the Norse god Odin. Considering the realm of Tolkien’s studies and expertise, this is not to be wondered at, though there are differences between the two beings. Tolkien himself referred to Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer.” I didn’t make this connection until I started delving into Scandinavian literature. Then I realized why I had loved Tolkien so much without realizing it.

Odin, by F.T. McKinstry

Needless to say, I am fascinated by Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. An ambivalent figure, he hungers for knowledge, is a notorious shapeshifter, and rules madness and berserkers. He is also known as a Trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. The archetypal Trickster is a shamanic figure, a terrible force that turns things upside down and brings one before the Unknown, the source of wisdom and new experience. Odin himself undergoes this initiation when he hangs on the World Tree for nine days and nights in agony before picking up the Sacred Runes deep beneath the roots.

Interestingly, in like tradition, Gandalf plunges into the nameless depths of the earth in battle with the Balrog, an initiation from which he is reborn as Gandalf the White.

Whether you call him a god, an entity, a patron of shamans or a part of my psyche, I became devoted to Odin. He provides a vital source of inspiration for my work. Here are some relevant projects:

The Eye of Odin

Eye of Odin, Cover ArtThe Eye of Odin” is a science fiction story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. I made up my own verses of Odin’s tale and wove them into this story in relevant places, shadowing events.

“The Eye of Odin” is available for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIn this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman named Othin (an alternate spelling of Odin), named after the god himself. In keeping with his otherworldly namesake, Othin lands into a cruel pickle when the gods pull a fast one on him. But as fate would have it, his witchy lover has other plans.

This story is available for free on Smashwords.

Outpost

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

Recommended Reading

The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R Ellis Davidson
The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland

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

Free Reads for the Dark Season

December on Cooper Hill

There is no time of year when I don’t want to read and write books. Winter, however, has a special place in my heart. I live in the north where the winters are long, dark and nasty, the sort of winters that make one appreciate the finer aspects of being mortal. I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks (I’m not kidding). My greenhouse, the most colossal distraction ever, is closed up and snowed in, the gardens are asleep, the woodstove is glowing and the biggest excitement of the day is watching the wildlife bickering around the feeders outside. My cats enjoy this too when they aren’t beating up on each other.

What better time to hunker down into books, heh. In celebration, here are some short fantasy stories to go with your hot cocoa during the wintry hours. May your season be bright!

The Om Tree, Cover ArtTrees know things. In this dark little tale, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Fantasy, 2100 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Earth Blood Cover ArtThe earth keeps secrets. A dark tale of war, loss, and the powers of the earth.

Fantasy, 1940 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIt all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Fantasy, 3500 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. 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? Read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

“Pattern Sense” 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.

This story originally 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.