The Trickster

The Trickster

Birds in the corvid family have always intrigued me, ravens and crows among them. These birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales. Among other things, they are said to move between the worlds, making them harbingers and messengers of the Otherworld. They are playful, clever and at times devious, giving them a reputation as tricksters.

The hooded crow (Corvus cornix) is striking. It is found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called a hoodiecrow, corbie or grey crow, it is ash gray with a black head and throat, wings and tail. It looks like it’s wearing a black cloak with the hood down. How cool is that?

This fine creature has a special place in the story of Outpost, a fantasy novel woven with Norse mythology, mythical beings, swords and sorcery. In this tale, the hoodiecrow is a trickster par excellence, appearing as a particularly curious bird, a dream, a synchronistic event, or a charm given to a warrior by his love. To a knitter with the power of the earth in her hands, the crow takes form as an otherworldly rider.

A warrior on a gray horse thumped over the fresh snow, spruce boughs swaying with silvery restlessness in his wake. His horse moved strangely, as if it had too many legs. The rider wore exquisitely wrought mail of ash gray, black leggings and boots, and a mantle that covered his head and shoulders with feathery black. The hilts of two fine swords glinted above his shoulder. He reined in before the cottage and looked up, revealing the smooth, straight beak of a crow. His eyes glittered like stars.

Melisande stood in the snow in her bare feet, gazing up at the crow warrior like a child. He was beautiful, strange and vast, like a force of nature. He was not Fylking. Not Otherworld, either. He was beyond that.

“Beware.” The sound was the voice of the wind, his voice.

To a wayward seer at odds with the Otherworld, the hooded crow appears to spring him from a trap, a fortuitous event that comes with a very high price.

“Self-pity is powerful magic, is it not?” the crow said. Its pale ash body glowed beneath the pitch mantle of its cloak. “It turns the ridiculous into the sublime.” It cocked its head mockingly.

After delivering an annoying lecture, of course.

As with any trickster, the crow hides its agenda in mystery and surprise. What looks like guidance, mockery, companionship or a warning can—and most likely will—throw one into trouble. But that’s the way it works, with tricksters. Chaos leads to transformation.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Noble of the Wood

Apple Tree

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~ Welsh Proverb

The apple is a sacred tree with a long, rich history of lore surrounding it. Aside from its fruit and many medicinal uses, it was revered in ancient times as a talisman of love, healing and immortality. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn gave apples to the gods to keep them immortal. Loki stole them, but had to return them when the gods began to age. In English tradition, one apple was left on each tree after harvest as a gift to the fairies. Apple wood is the traditional choice for magic wands, and a branch laden with buds, flowers and fruit enables the possessor to enter the Otherworld. Considered the food of the dead, apples are associated with Samhain.

Old Apple Tree

Apple trees grow wild in the woods where I live, and are particularly lovely in the spring, when they bloom. They tend to have dark, twisty trunks and low-sweeping, crooked branches, giving them a spooky air. A while back we bought a sturdy little tree and planted it in the back yard. It took years for the first blooms to appear. This year, it’s loaded with flowers. They smell incredible.

My apple tree has stories to tell. The winters are long and rugged up here, and the tree takes a beating, half buried in snow, torn by wind and ice. It split in an ice storm once, right down the middle and partway into the trunk. Heartbroken, I had the desperate idea of pushing it back together and holding it with electrical tape. This actually worked, if you can believe. It healed and now it’s strong as ever.

All kinds of creatures love the apple tree. The birds perch in it, and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. In fall, I throw apples into the woods for the deer. Then there are my illustrious cats. The tree is easy to climb and perch in, and when the leaves are thick a cat can hide in it. Oh, and let’s not forget the spiders. Big, hobbit-eating spiders. They guard the tree and I’ve learned to keep my wits about me.

Oona in the Apple Tree

If all goes well this summer, we should have apples coming out our ears.

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

The Hooded Crow

The Hooded Crow

There is an especially striking bird in the corvid family known as a Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix). They are found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called Hoodiecrows, Corbies or Grey Crows, they are ash gray with a black head and throat (hence the name), wings and tail. As with all crows and ravens, these birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales.

Heh. Far be it for me not to give homage to such a beautiful, mysterious creature. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, the hooded crow shows up as a harbinger of the gods, leaving our protagonists mystified as to what it’s up to.

In The Riven God, Book Four in the Chronicles of Ealiron, an immortal being with a thirst for vengeance and a sense of humor gains the help of a mortal warrior to open the gates for his feathered, otherworldly devotees, thereby changing the course of a war.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

For the Birds

Every season of the year has its distinguishing qualities. One of my favorite things about spring is the return of birds. In the north, where I live, winter is long and somewhat daunting; still and silent but for crows, blue jays and chickadees. But in the spring, suddenly I hear birds, lots of birds that I haven’t heard in a good while. The woods come alive with them.

My cats are interested in this too, of course. They do what they do—yeah ok, they hunt. Ferocious predators, cats. I’ve rescued quite a few birds from their clutches. I have this Radagast the Brown thing going on. I explain to the birds that they need to be careful around here. The phoebes get a special talk: “Oh dear no, you can’t build your nest on the shed door because that black cat there will eat you and yours and not even belch afterwards.” And don’t even get me started on the hummingbirds. Despite this, the birds kindly hang around all summer even after I take the feeders down to deter the bears, raccoons and skunks. Nature knows her own dark side, as do all balanced things.

In honor of our feathered friends, I would like to share some paintings I’ve done over the years…in the spring, usually.


When I began building the world of Ealiron, birds like raptors and swans became symbols for hierarchies of wizards. Ealiron: The Keepers of the Eye contains a series of pen and ink drawings depicting these.

Happy birding!

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

Winged Mojo

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry
I admit it, I love winter. In the northwoods of New England where I live, I get plenty of it. However, by the time spring comes—months after most everyone else is celebrating the season—the romance is gone and I’d do anything for a warm sunny day and something green. I settle for my houseplants. I tinker with and fret over cuttings I rooted the summer before and kept alive all winter. Precious things.

The woods feed my heart in every season. Nature doesn’t whine. It accepts, it breathes, it moves on. Change and transformation are inherent. Nature heals itself. Nowhere is this power more inspiring than in the ubiquitous chickadee. These little birds fear nothing; no bitter cold, howling winds, ice storms in April, not even my prowling cats daunt them.

Chickadees have mojo.

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