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.

My Wild Wood Elf

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” – Oscar Wilde

Eleven years ago I adopted a rescue kitty I named Hemlock, after a beautiful pattern in her fur that looked like the bark of a hemlock tree. As a kitten, she had been abandoned and left in the woods to die. Metaphorically speaking, the same thing happened to me and I’ve spent my life dealing with it in much the same way she did: half wild, a bit fey, hard to get close to. In time, with love and patience, Hemlock came to trust me. She was a familiar of sorts. She taught me things, and we understood each other.

Yesterday, I sank to my knees and gave Hemlock to the gods, along with a part of my soul.

Sickness and death have a singular power to drive us into the shimmering web that holds the Universe together. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what platitudes you invoke to comfort yourself, what gods you pray to or not. Death plays no favorites, and in its wake we are alone, staring into the void. In whatever shape it takes, death transforms everything it touches. A window to the Source, inherently creative, death alters the very fabric of time and space and reminds us of what we are.

Grief

Of the vast, infinitely complex array of human emotion, grief wears the crown. It is subject to more denial, tricks and traps than any other emotion and nothing is immune from its clutches. Being imaginative and naturally resistant to change, we have elaborate ways of dealing with grief. We have developed a system for recognizing its stages, all the ways we maneuver, hide and contort ourselves to elude the inexorable. Because it fucking sucks.

Case in point, I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’m as raw as an open wound, between the worlds, a ghost haunting Hemmy’s grave out there collecting snow beneath the trees. I can’t get my head around the fact that she is gone. My house has become a dreary landscape of empty spaces where she used to sleep, play and warm herself. I still feel her frail, dying body in my arms. My eyes are swollen and my head’s stuffed up and grief is surging through me in thorny, spiky waves, tearing me to pieces.

There’s a panel of dispassionate psychiatrists and neuroscientists in my head patiently explaining that my sensations of Hemmy’s presence, seeing her ghost in the shadows of the house, or the image of light surrounding me as the pain ravages my heart are all just mental constructs, delusions, fancies I’ve created as part of the stages of grief. That I’m just manufacturing meaning so I can cope with the loss. Bullshit. If losing Hemmy were meaningless I wouldn’t feel this way. I’m rallying to Quantum Theory, which has begun to sidle up to the fey and frown at the tenets of materialism.

Yeah. Quantum Theory, bitches.

Hemlock

Rest in peace, Hemmy, my wild, wood elf girl. You will shine in my heart always.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. 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.

Wizards, Woods and Gods: 2nd Print Edition

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. Ancient gardens, lost temples, cosmic alignments, immortal predators, assassins, shapeshifters, warriors and maidens will transport you to realms where the rules are different, nothing is as it seems and the heart keeps the balance of ages.

The Second Print Edition of Wizards, Woods and Gods, originally published as an ebook by Wild Child Publishing, includes “Water Dark,” a novella that takes place in the world featured in The Chronicles of Ealiron. Also included are “The Om Tree,” “Earth Blood” and “Pattern Sense,” which are available on Smashwords for free.

Click on the following links for illustrations, descriptions and brief excerpts.

The Om Tree (Free) – Trees know things.

The Trouble with Tansy – Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.

Pattern Sense (Free) – It all started with a mouse.

The War God Sleeps – An age of ignorance ends on the edge of a sword.

The Fifth Verse – The wise men of the world called her a Shade.

Earth Blood (Free) – The earth keeps secrets.

Eating Crow – It is never a good idea to anger a wizard.

Deathseer – Death doesn’t take sides.

The Bridge – Gods appear to wizards as one thing; to warriors, another.

Marked – Beware the pitfalls of mingling with immortals.

The Origin – Things aren’t always what they seem.

Water Dark – In the calm deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Twelve Stories
160 Pages
Available on Amazon.

Reviews

“All the stories are interesting and fun to read… This author gives her stories depth and gave this reader the feeling I was actually in that time and place…” – Long and Short Reviews (Read Entire Review)

“These are short stories but there is a lot of story in each one. They are well told and I enjoyed every one. I will be buying more McKinstry books.” – Review on Amazon

“F.T. McKinstry writes in a way that involves all the senses. It’s not something I read line by line, but sensation by sensation. Highly recommended.” – Review on Barnes and Noble

“…filled with poetic imaging and storytelling that breathes more than just life into the stories…elevated the telling into the fantasy realm even without subject matter that also took place there.” – Review on Goodreads

“Short stories that run the gamut from humour, fantasy all the way to science fiction. I found it a very easy read and would highly recommend it!” – Review on Goodreads

“Each story is set in a fantasy setting, in a world full of magical elements and mythical beings. They are told in a language that is richly descriptive and in my opinion, it helped to make the reader get into the atmosphere of the stories.” – Review on Goodreads

“I think my favorite story was Eating Crow, involving a shapeshifting female who rarely takes the form of a mortal woman. In Deathseer, there is such a memorable quote by an assassin of all people: ‘Love is the difficult choice, Thorn said quietly. Fear is easy.'” – Jessica Nicholls, author of Into the Arms of Morpheus. (Read Entire Review)

“This is my introduction to the literature of FT McKinstry, and I’m positively in love with her writing style!” – R.A. Sears, The Ragnarok Legacy (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark was an engaging dark fantasy. It was very well written, plot driven, and pulled me in immediately.” – Wicked Readings by Tawania (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark is a tale that should delight both fantasy fans and devoted followers of F.T. McKinstry. It provides an unexpected conclusion keeping the novel rather cryptic and mysterious…” – Writer Wonderland (See Entire Review)

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

Ealiron Glossary Terms: The Old One

Welcome to Ealiron Glossary Terms, a new series of posts in which I’ll discuss fantasy terms in Chronicles of Ealiron: Terms and Places, the online glossary for the series. Today’s term is Old One.

Old One: The primordial goddess of nature, life, death, and transformation. Formlessness, Void. Often referred to as Maern, Aenspeak for “mother.” Unknowable in her true form, but perceived by all structural consciousness in terms of feminine aspects: e.g., maiden, mother, crone. See also Destroyer.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Old One

Where the heart yearns, there is the point of Mystery. Though the Old One holds in her arms the seeds of new awareness, healing and light, she cannot be seen or understood by the seed itself. – From Water Dark

The Old One is based on the concept of the Triple Goddess, a being that comprises three aspects of the Divine Feminine integrated as one: Maiden, Mother and Crone. These aspects exist and are manifested in all things, whether nature, events or the shadows of the psyche. In the world of Ealiron, wizards govern balance in the realms and gods walk among them; but both mortals and immortals revere the Old One as sovereign. While referred to as a deity, she is more like a force underlying all things. She is inexorable. Life always comes, it preserves itself to its own expression, and all things die. She is the power by which consciousness knows itself.

Maiden

She was the first woman, the only woman, the one all women knew. She was as pure as the first breath, soft as flowers and fresh cream as she yielded to him, her cry blowing through the tree in the swirling language of the lair as he broke through her maidenhead and into the eternal warmth and safety of a mother’s womb. – From The Winged Hunter

The Maiden emerges from the Void as new: birth, spring, desire, unfolding. She is the individuality of a bud, an egg or a fresh idea, innocent of darkness. Her light shines like a beacon attracting its own demise, as the cycle begins.

© F.T. McKinstry

The Maiden

Mother

She was all cycles, all changes, all movements in the shapes of waves, circles, wells, and caves protecting the wounded. – From The Winged Hunter

The Mother is the abundance of life. She nourishes, grows, heals and protects. She is the exuberance of a blooming garden in full summer, the blush and glow of pregnancy, the instinct of a mother protecting her offspring and the healing of a warrior’s wounds.

Echinacea, by F.T. McKinstry

Echinacea

Crone

The Destroyer curled her body with supple grace, caressing the depths. She moved up towards the shimmering surface in a silent spiral, hungry and inexorable. To be worthy of providing a vessel in which to hide her child, these mortals would surrender to the forces that gave him life. – From The Gray Isles

The Crone is the Unknown, the Void, Formlessness, that from which all things come and to which all things must return, from a blade of grass to a galaxy. Hers is the power of death, transformation, rebirth and regeneration. All things must pass through the darkness to know the light, and it is usually through her that one can perceive the aspects of the Old One as inseparable. There can be no birth without death; no protection without swords; no healing without destruction; and no innocence that cannot fall. Likewise, there can be no destruction without rebirth. Every phase of life depends on the other.

The Old One, by F.T. McKinstry

The Old One

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Old One appears in one shape or another throughout the Chronicles of Ealiron and many of the short stories in Wizards, Woods and Gods.

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

The Ubiquitous Corvid

Nightshade in Flight

A raven landed on the rock, released a deep-throated cry then rose into the air and wheeled away, blending with the night. The priestess watched his form against the stars until she could not see him anymore. Then she picked up the knife. ~ From The Riven God

I live in the woods, and my vegetable garden is fenced in to keep the wildlife from eating it. For two years now, some creature has maintained a tunnel to my well-stocked compost pile despite my best efforts to thwart it. I’ve never seen this mysterious sapper; it comes in the night. Amazingly, it doesn’t bother anything in the garden, so I concluded the compost is a good first line of defense. The beastie doesn’t bother to venture beyond it.

Edgar Watching over my garden with the patience of a plastic thing is a big black corvid. A puzzling ornament, he is big enough to be a raven but has the beak of a crow. He stands in a stately pose. I dubbed him Edgar. He doesn’t deter night raiders, blue jays, cabbage moths or mice. But he is good company.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens were given the honor of belonging to both the seen and the unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. This is a natural association given their intelligence, which is formidable. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their ubiquitous presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, heralds of death and bringers of information from the other side.

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstryThe Vikings had great respect for ravens, and a symbiotic relationship with them similar to that of wolves, as the birds led them to prey and shared in the spoils. The Norse god Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom, keeps two ravens named Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) which fly over the land and whisper to him of all they see and hear.

These birds fascinate me to no end and they have found a special place in my work, both visual and literary. I have dedicated an art gallery to them, given their names to high-ranking wizards’ orders and made characters of them in their own right. One such character is a raven called Nightshade, who plays a major role in The Riven God, Book Four in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Nightshade, by F.T. McKinstryNightshade is no ordinary raven, if any raven can be called that. Marked by a single white feather in her tail, she is a messenger kept by wizards for times when their powers of otherworldly communication do not serve. She does this on her own terms, however. Nightshade finds someone lost at sea without the help or instruction of her keepers; she disappears for days at a time on mysterious errands; has been known to hang about with war gods telling them who knows what; and even appears to one startled wizard as a warrior lost to memory.

In the following excerpt, an exiled princess lost at sea meets Nightshade for the first time.

She jumped as the squawking repeated outside. Gasping with pain, she pushed herself up and crept to the gaping crack between the hull and what used to be the cabin hatch. Clouds drifted across a hazy sky. The diluted orb of the sun shone like an eye shrouded by age.

A raven fluttered into view and alit on the broken mast.

“You,” Rhinne rasped. Something like this had awaked her earlier. The bird preened its glossy black feathers. It had one white feather in its tail. What was it doing out here? Rhinne pushed herself through the crack like a timid cat and scanned the horizon in every direction.

No land. Nothing.

The bird took off and flew out of sight. Rhinne had no clear references by which to mark the direction of its flight.

She lowered herself back into the cabin. Trust the water. She abruptly broke into laughter. She slammed her fists down and then shoved her face in her hands, laughing like a wild thing, tugging at her hair and rocking forward, clutching at her salt encrusted clothes. This was absurd. She had just died following the advice of a delusion and now a raven was harassing her. She was nothing but a weak, stupid creature that had been crushed by a bigger, stronger, smarter creature. So it was.

Three days passed.

In the clutches of hunger and thirst, rocking in the cycles of day and night and the swells and movements of the sea, Rhinne decided she was not dead, but living and stranded somewhere in the Sea of Derinth. At night, the gibbous moon told her that over a week had passed since her departure from Tromb. It rained once, giving her a brief respite from thirst. But her throat ached and every part of her body wept with too much noise.

She had seen the raven twice more; once at sunset the first day and again the day after, in the evening. She had not seen it since. Wherever it had come from, it undoubtedly knew she would die and planned to feast on her remains. She thought long and hard on how she might turn the tables, capture and eat it herself.

It had also occurred to her that the bleak creature served Ragnvald or Dore, and was giving them reports as to her whereabouts. Unfortunately, she had no bow or arrows, not even a knife. And a raven would not be easily ensnared.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Hooded crows also play a part in The Riven God. No one sees them coming, not even the one who summons them. But that’s another tale.

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

Earth Blood

Earth Blood Cover Art

The earth keeps secrets. In this short story, 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.

Excerpt

The forest nodded beneath the subtle insistence of autumn’s touch as a rider thundered through. Boughs, brush, ferns and fallen leaves rippled in his wake, seeking quiescence. Another winter, a long one this year, if the geese and caterpillars knew anything.

Cloaked in the fragrance of blood, the Captain of the North Thorn Guard leaned forward in his saddle, breathing heavily beneath a turbid river of pain strewn with the corpses of his slashed and broken company, their fair eyes staring at nothing.

Harald, he heard his mother say. Fear not the earth.

In one moon’s cycle, he would bow his head to the keening of women, swaying and clutching root knives at the Feast of Shadows. Women for whose blood his men had died at the hands of outlanders, hired cutthroats ravaging the Realm of Five Hawthorns for nothing but stories.

Fifteen suns past, the same women had stood before their mossy altars in silence after finding his mother in a meadow surrounded by a late summer tapestry of goldenrod, purple aster and bramble, her head crushed by a stone. So it was told. Just into manhood, his black hair hanging in strands dripping cold rain, Harald had not been allowed to see her. Instead, his father gave him a sword.

Trust not the earth, he had advised.

Want to read more? Get it for free on Smashwords.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Earth Blood” 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.

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