The Wolf Lords Released

Wolf Lords Cover

Samhain Greetings.

Good things take time. Often enough, it’s the things we love the most that require the most time and energy. We’ll throw my next novel, The Wolf Lords, into that category. I wrote this beastie amid two years of personal hell I’ll call shamanic initiation, for lack of a better term. Though it’s Halloween, I’ll spare you the gory details. Watch a horror movie.

PhookaBeing a dark, tormented, sensitive sort, I have a strong connection to this time of year, the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Horror movies, tricks and treats aside, Samhain is a transformational time that marks a change in the natural world, a descent into darkness. The veil between the physical and spirit worlds thins, a portal that allows energy to flow between. One can release things to the void, pass through the darkness, and emerge renewed.

When dealing with the spirit world, there is an exchange of energy. In the old days this was accomplished with a blood sacrifice, a literal interpretation of a spiritual truth. Releasing the old is a treat to the spirits, one that will spare you a trick in the form of your personal ghouls rising up to claim you like a zombie horde. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Okay, I know quite a bit about that but whatever.

Anyway, in the realm of Dyrregin in my fantasy series The Fylking, the veil is frequented by not only witches and warlocks but also seers who serve an unseen immortal race of warriors called the Fylking. All of this happens beyond most mortals’ ability to perceive. In Outpost, Book One, a handful of mortals with second sight deal singlehandedly with the sort of nastiness the spirit world is capable of in the hands of a powerful enemy. But in The Wolf Lords, ambitious sorcerers and the Fylking’s ancient enemy change the veil itself, unleashing upon the realm things best left unseen.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Smashwords

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Haven’t read Book One yet? Tsk. I’m telling the ghouls.

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.

Shades of Instinct

In the wilds of Ostarin, folks have a saying: “Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.” But one can sense a truth and not be able to explain it. Some things exist beyond the scope of linear thought, a deep, dark river of visceral knowledge flowing through all life, giving it vitality or, more often than not, unease.

In Ostarin, hunter is the common term for an assassin. There are other terms; many people blur the line between assassin and warlock, two shady occupations that often conspire. But hunter, being universally understood, is used to describe the stream of impressions that connect an assassin to the deep dark river. This is called the Hunter’s Rede, and its impressions are called Shades.

No one knows where the Hunter’s Rede originated. It’s not written down anywhere. A wizard might say the Shades arose from the muddy waters of primitive instinct, truths an assassin does well to heed in the practice of his art. But hunters don’t question this. The Rede defies such objective scrutiny.

Lorth of Ostarin

For Lorth of Ostarin, an accomplished assassin with the rough skills of a wizard, the Hunter’s Rede is as natural as his own heartbeat. It whispers in his mind; sometimes quietly, other times sharply, wearing a stern countenance, or with patient insistence. During Lorth’s search for the meaning of darkness, the Shades become suspect, as knowledge often does in the throes of change. It is only when his heart breaks and he abandons the Rede that he discovers its true nature.

This is how it goes….

Shade of Unknown: I have no name.
Shade of Belonging: I have no place.
Shade of Attention: I am unseen.
Shade of Wings: The owl flies near.
Shade of Silence: Life departs unknown.
Shade of Solitude: I am alone.
Shade of Balance: The Old One knows.
Shade of Age: I am not innocent.
Shade of Night: I sleep awake.
Shade of Kind: The laws of the lawless are certain.
Shade of Need: I love in the shadows.
Shade of Fault: Confidence escapes notice.
Shade of Fate: I owe nothing.
Shade of One: I am the Destroyer.
Shade of Forsaken: The Void loves nothing.
Shade of Harrow: I am swift.
Shade of Alarm: No chance to fear.
Shade of Low: The earth keeps secrets.
Shade of Attachment: No death is mine.
Shade of Illusion: The sun casts shadows.
Shade of Blood: Death is life.
Shade of Instinct: I act from knowing.
Shade of Surrender: All is cyclic.
Shade of Moon: The tide brings light.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede CoverThe Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

A swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

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

Kali the Ribbon Snake

I once kept a ribbon snake named Kali. She ate live goldfish. She would hover over the water bowl for some time as the fish swam around in there and then she would dive in a flurry of writhing, splashing and mayhem. And that would be the end of that.

Baby SnakeI didn’t know Kali was female when I got her. The name just fit. But now I can confidently refer to her as “she” and not fall back on having named her after a romantic assumption. One morning, I came out to say hello and noticed a little head peeking out of the shadows of the greenery. Kali had given birth to seven babies. Once this might have been considered an auspicious omen. In any case, I was impressed.

Snakes are beautiful and fascinating. In traditional animal lore, the snake is a symbol of transformation and rebirth. They live underground, in dark places, and as they grow they shed their skins and are renewed. It’s like an initiation rite. During this time their eyes cloud over and they get aggressive, as they feel vulnerable in the in-between state. Now and then I’ll find a snakeskin in a woodpile or a stone wall. I like to keep them as a reminder that dark or restricting times herald the forces of change and that the sun is still shining up there somewhere.

Photography Prints

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

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.

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.

Of Wolves and Paint

I’ve had it in mind for months to do the cover art for an upcoming story in my publisher’s queue. Months of patient and yet diffident motivation. I know nothing. But the part of me driving this doesn’t care about my insecurities. A force of nature, it annihilates the quiet village of my everyday consciousness with all the sensitivity of a plague.

When it’s time, small things become precious. A bag of chocolate chips, a pot of coffee. The yowl of a cat by the half-filled bowl. The birds outside, their feeder getting a little low. That funny chipmunk photo on Facebook. Vacuuming the floor. A nap. Emptying the dishwasher. How engaging and poignant it all is next to the darkness, as if setting that canvas on the easel marks the end of my life.

The darkness is seductive. I put on a playlist entitled “Swords and Sorcery,” a collection of bleak, angry, sublime music that encourages me to pull out my post-apocalyptic paint box and sit here with my head in my hands. All my music sucks under this. All the caps on my paints are cross threaded and gummed up. I have some 30-year old pliers I use to open them. The pliers have a green handle, making them easy to find. I still can’t find them but I enjoy searching because well, I’m not painting yet. Finally, I start squirting paint onto the palette to the clamor of heavy metal and think, “You guys need to shut the hell up so I can concentrate.” But I leave it on.

The sun is trying to come out. It’ll be dark soon. This house is like the inside of a tomb, in winter. Plants crowd the windows with silent desperation, dreaming of spring. Maybe I should turn off this self-obsessed music and think nice thoughts. Go clean the fishtank and water the plants with the green-brown tasty water. That would cheer them up. The bag of chocolate chips is still on the table between me and the fishes. Forget it. Sun’s out now. Plants are fine, fishes are fine, and nice thoughts are meaningless.

My painting is still waiting. Cats come in, cats go out. There are too many shadows and the lights aren’t dispelling them. Cats see into the Otherworld; one might think they’d step up and help me out a little. But it doesn’t bother them. Me, I can no longer tell the difference between the real shadows and the ones in my mind. There isn’t one.

This is worse than writing, it really is. Ok, no it’s not. Yes, it is, this is a lot worse.

No it’s not. But I’m doing this now. Sort of. It’s so easily romanticized, that crossbow tension between yearning and ennui. Since when did suffering become romantic? I suppose it’s better than some manufactured New Age metaphor of smearing oil paint onto an empty surface. I don’t need to be pressured to see this in a lofty way. I’d rather be annihilated.

Probable Cover Art, by F.T. McKinstryOk. Enough abstractions. Pick up the brush. No, not that brush, the other one, the one I haven’t trashed yet. Paint the wolf first, he’s the hardest. Let darkness fall, the wind blow and the rain splatter against the house. It hurts, it’s bleeding. I’m going to die. I can’t do this. Put the paint on the canvas. It looks horrible. Keep painting. It’ll come together, it always does. This wants to happen. It’s ok.

It’s all ok.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Reflecting Pool

I see creativity as a reflecting pool. We gaze into the darkness and something appears on the surface, reflected by the light. The water is mostly unseen, rendering this process not only mysterious but also unnerving. To my mind, seeing a slavering monster is less uncomfortable than seeing nothing at all. The monster has form, at least.

I have a penchant for the darkness beneath the reflection. When I write or paint, I stare right into it, past the images, past the lily pads and the ripples on the surface, past what makes sense. My hands shake and my heart pounds. The archers man the walls in the middle of the night. But the self is much greater than the sum of its parts. It creates them.

Writing fantasy is my ultimate mirror, a way to explore the paradox of darkness and light through worlds, characters, places, and events. I tend to spin up stories that deal with the nature of the pool itself, beings and ideas that live in fairy tales, myths, and legends. Here are some variations on a theme.

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstryIn the Ostarin Mountains, it is said, only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness. – From The Hunter’s Rede

This was the first line I put down in this tale. I didn’t really understand what it meant; I had to write the book before it came into focus (which it’s still doing, by the way). It’s a simple enough idea on the surface: a wizard brings light from the darkness; and a hunter—local vernacular for an assassin—brings light into the darkness. The void is the common denominator. But that tells us nothing about the void, let alone its true meaning.

It cost the hero of this story quite a bit of trouble to figure this out, and he bears the skills of both a hunter and a wizard. Perhaps that gave him an advantage, though his shortcomings were every bit as powerful. That’s usually how it goes. The brightest light casts the darkest shadow.

Like a cat, the heart sees in the dark where the mind is blind. This is where the simple explanations end. The heart is connected to everything. It knows every thread in the cosmic tapestry and one must learn, often under great distress, to hear the whispers, subtle as they are. Like a force of nature, the heart does not particularly care what structures are destroyed to clear the ground for seedlings. This happens individually and collectively, in real worlds and imaginary ones. The darkness is terrifying because we can’t see what’s happening there until it comes into the light.

The void is the source. And that is a mystery.

Stars and Sea, by F.T. McKinstryThe forces of the sea give rise to imagination, which reflects them according to the nature and disposition of the perceiver. The sea itself is undifferentiated and without bias. – From The Gray Isles

The sea. What an awesome metaphor for the vastness and mystery of the unconscious self. As if the heart of every conscious being in the universe took shape in time and space to show us its nature. I focused on this without thinking, and came up with the fey progeny of a god and an immortal sea serpent, a child hidden in a mortal body and fraught with a restless heart indeed. It didn’t whisper. It clutched him by the head and shouted.

Here, metaphor and reality became one. A legend can abandon, isolate, or even kill. It isn’t real but it is and the sea, being a natural realm of mystery, passion and the perils of the unseen, can appear as anything: dreams, monsters, witches, assassins. Like the seemingly indifferent forces of the heart in its movement towards expression and illumination, the sea is bottomless.

When one is born of the sea, it will protect even as it destroys to bring forth life.

Echinacea, by F.T. McKinstryGardens are made of darkness and light entwined. – From The Winged Hunter

A girl recalls her lost mother’s words in a moment of crisis, when her beautiful garden is frozen dead by a roguish wizard who disturbed the balance of the seasons. While writing that frightening scene, it occurred to me that the balance can only be disturbed—or preserved—because light and dark are one.

If you want to see this in action, watch nature. In full bloom, vibrant with life, a garden is a wonderful thing of the light. Look more closely and you’ll see the threads of darkness: a leaf chewed clean by a caterpillar, a flower withering after its bloom, a tender seedling returning to the earth because it didn’t get enough sun. Roots find the darkness; rain and decay nourishes them. The cat catches a bird. The big spider in the blackberry patch snares a dragonfly.

Soon this cycle expands, and a larger one includes it. Late in the summer, the shadows start to change. Like a sigh at the end of a long day, the heavy boughs on the trees and the flourishing canopies of brush and perennials turn inward with a kind of longing. These forces are implacable. Try to start a tulip bulb from dormancy, or place a cheery annual in a window over a long winter. You can hear them pine for the void—and likely as not, they’ll return to it despite your mothering, like souls needing rest in a cold grave.

In the fall, I clean out my gardens with sad, cold intent, like some votary of the Destroyer. It’s like weeding in the larger spiral. I take it all down into the dark and when the earth is bare, I grieve for a few days. But in the gray and white silence of a long winter, when my gardens are but a dream, I feel them waiting.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2012. All Rights Reserved.