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.

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.

Frost Moon

Frost Moon

Frost moon is a Norse name given to a full moon in November. The moon is particularly beautiful and mysterious this time of year, when the leaves are in color, the branches are bare and the winds are cold. A while back I was moved to capture this in an oil painting.

Tonight, we’re there. It’s supposed to snow in my neck of the woods so I might not see it…but I’ll feel it. Wherever you are, enjoy.

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

Lone Mountain

Pale as the moon casting amethyst and indigo shadows,
Distant as a dream, yet close as light,
A mountain shines through the whispering boughs of a twilit wood.
 

Photography Prints

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

Story Illustrations: Wizards, Woods and Gods

Wizards, Woods and Gods is a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

I did a series of pen and ink illustrations inspired by some of these stories. Click on the images to zoom and get information about each story.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

The Rites of Hawthorn

Blooming Hawthorn Tree

A lovely hawthorn tree grows by my house, in the woods near a small pond. For most of the year it blends with the surroundings, a tangle of shadows and light. But when it blooms, it takes on an otherworldly presence.

A Druid sacred tree, the hawthorn is traditionally associated with the realm of Faery. With its thorns and red berries it has a fearsome reputation for giving power to the spoken words of Druids and witches. Its berries, leaves and flowers were used to treat heart conditions. It is said that where a lone hawthorn grows on a hill in proximity to a spring or a well, a doorway to Faery is near; and where it grows with oak and ash one may see faeries. A blooming hawthorn tree marks the official beginning of summer, the festival of Beltaine or May Day. As such the tree and its blooms are associated with fertility, weddings and maidenhood.

A warrior becomes strong by the scars on his body; a wizard becomes strong by the scars on his heart. The story of The Winged Hunter delves into the heart of a powerful wizard named Eaglin of Ostarin. Among other things he is a priest who serves a primordial goddess of birth, death and transformation. He is trained in the Rites of Hawthorn, through which he initiates maidens into the sexual mysteries. When one such initiation goes horribly wrong, he bears the scar for years. As it often goes with wizards, it takes a bloodthirsty immortal predator called a sioros to trick him into facing his dark side and healing the wound.

Shadows enveloped the palace of Eusiron as Eaglin stumbled from the trees to the lower gate. In the wavering light of a cresset, his mother stood, tall and dressed in black. Slowly, he dropped to his knees and stared through a shroud of tears at her hands holding a damp scrap of finery, pale as a maiden and stitched with flower-laden hawthorn boughs. “We found her in the river,” she said softly.

“But I did not—” he blurted, shattered by the news.

“You did not understand that you cast the shadow of a god.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Winged Hunter, Cover ArtThe Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Tansel is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Fey, they call her.
Her aunt, a dabbler in hedge witchery, calls her cursed.
To the most powerful wizards in the land, she is an enigma.

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

Puss in Books

Puss in Boots

Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots) ~ Gustave Doré

“When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.’ ~ Mark Twain

Hello, my name is Faith and I’m one dead mouse away from being a crazy cat lady.

It’s been said that cats lend themselves particularly well to writers. There’s something comforting about the presence of a cat, a divine connoisseur of languor and solitude. Cats are a soft touch in the void.

And writers of fantasy? Now we’re talking Muse. Cats are mysterious and reputed to prowl the boundaries of the Otherworld. Here cats can talk, do magical things or act as gods. They serve witches, wizards, even warriors. They provide beautiful metaphors for grace and implacability—just watch a cat stalk and kill some hapless creature. Exemplary.

Stalking Hemlock

Hemlock

As I can no more pass up this tempting morsel than a cat could ignore a little bird hopping on the windowsill, following are some cats that appear in my books and stories….

Sele is kept by the sailors of a merchant vessel called The Slippery Elm. They consider her good luck at sea. When a brooding assassin named Lorth secures passage, the sailors are counting on Sele to protect them. But cats have their own agendas. She forms a bond with Lorth, who likes animals, and keeps him company over his journey.

Radu

Radu

Scrat is inspired by a cat I once had named Radu. In classic style, Scrat belongs to a wizard. He does not employ her as a familiar or an Otherworld guide, but as a mouser and a friend. Scrat is later adopted by Lorth and comforts the assassin as no human can.

Mushroom rules the garden of a young woman named Tansel, who lives alone in the mountain forest of Loralin. When she and the cat are taken in by a powerful old wizard with some dark secrets, Mushroom has his work cut out for him. While prowling after a female in heat, Mushroom attracts the attention of a winged immortal predator set on Tansel’s heart. The cat flees like a ghost when things get ugly, of course.

Oona

Oona

Rosemary does more than catch mice, cause trouble or warm a wizard’s lap. She can sing to the stars, draw down the light and heal things. She can make caterpillars drop from a plant, knit the leg of a lame horse or bring a warrior from the brink of death. In one story, she helps a witch reclaim her humanity.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Sele and Scrat appear in The Hunter’s Rede, a story of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

Mushroom appears in The Winged Hunter, a story of the perils of innocence, an immortal hunter’s curse and the long shadows of powerful wizards.

Rosemary appears in “Eating Crow,” a short story in the collection Wizard, Woods and Gods.

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