Eating Crow

Sioros

It is never a good idea to anger a wizard. One witch causes enough strife to provoke a powerful mage to summon an immortal hunter after her. But when she plumbs the utter reaches of her skills as a shapeshifter to elude the hunter, she discovers the value of her own humanity.

Excerpt

Shapeshifting was Oona’s life, a fluid existence she preferred to humanity. As a human, she would have avoided anything to do with the Master of Straif. A wizard of the deep flowing waters, the hollows of the earth and the implacable forces of blood and transformation, he had one black boot in the shadows.

And he loved his crow.

Oona, on the other hand, found the raucous creature too tempting. Tawny, lithe and driven by the lust of spring, she slipped around the eastern wall of the castle and climbed the spiky old hawthorn tree that grew there.

Most humans knew better than to cross a wizard. A cat did not care.

She landed with a soft thump in a bed of periwinkle. The crow called to the dawn. Nice of him to give her something to head for, though she would have smelled him easily enough without the noise. She crept on her belly through the shadows of lupine spires, tulips and daffodils until she spotted the bird on his perch above the crabapple tree. Fluid as sound, she changed.

She landed with a graceful flutter in the tree, a beautiful female crow with glistening black wings and a song for the male on his perch. He knew enough to be wary of her instant appearance in his domain, but curiosity distracted him. In that instant of miscalculation, Oona drew close and returned to her wildcat shape to finish her wicked deed. It ended quickly.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Eating Crow” 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.

This story inspired one of the scenes in 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.

Nature as Muse: Root and Stone

Natural landscapes are an integral part of any good tale, a multidimensional backdrop that gives life to the imagination. Like music, natural settings fall in patterns, creating moods, thoughts, and impressions by virtue of what they are.

Inspired by mountains, forests and all things that grow, the world of Ealiron is richly illustrated with root and leaf, both literally and through ancient traditions of magic honoring the correspondences between plants, trees, animals, color, and sound. Here we will journey through old forests, wise trees, enchanted gardens, fragile flowers, and mountains.

Forests

It was the forest’s fault. Those two handsome woodcutters. An evil place, the forest, everyone knew it, full of temptations and imps… ~ Tanith Lee

Hobbit Woods, by F.T. McKinstryForests get a bad rap in fairy tales. When they are portrayed at their most beautiful, that is when we’d best beware. While a deep, dark wood is an excellent metaphor for the shadowy realms of the mind, there is no denying that forests have a soul. The presence of trees creates a feeling of awe and stimulates the imagination.

The following excerpt describes an ancient forest called Eusiron’s Haunt, so called because a god of that name is consciously aware as the soul of the wood. Some say he protects the palace above. Others say it amuses him. To a wizard named Lorth, the Haunt is particularly uncanny.

In this forest, he could have seen a ghost, a wolf or a dragon. He could have seen something as fearsome as a sioros, an immortal man-shaped predator with tall black wings, fangs and no tolerance whatsoever for anything intruding on its territory. He had heard stories of things like that. Efar had told him that whatever one saw here depended on who that person was and with what purpose. Had his intentions been different—hostile, for example—the forest might have changed not only in appearance, but also in what lived here. It would not change in a linear sense, as if monsters or armies suddenly flooded from the trees. Time-space itself would change. From one moment to the next, a forest slightly unnerving would become, from the beginning of time, a forest patrolled by sioros, dragons and Maern knew what else. The ancient oak tree that moved from one side of the path to the other would become a monster with its own history, intentions and no one to stop it, as most likely no palace would tower above the tops of the trees, with an army inside to come to the rescue. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Trees

“Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispered, as he lifted her to the ground. “What nice dreams they must have!” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstryThere are forests, and then there are trees. After all, you can miss one for the other. Every kind of tree has its own personality: the texture of its bark, how it roots, the shape of its leaves, or the sound wind makes when it blows through the boughs. The spirits of trees are traditionally associated with qualities such as elemental forces, seasons, colors and life cycles. In Ealiron, different trees correspond with the twelve orders of the Keepers of the Eye, wizards and craftspeople who maintain balance in the world’s energies.

There exists a very rare tree in Ealiron called an Om tree. Its seeds are planted by gods, and it lives for many centuries. An Om tree grows in the palace of Eusiron, and is greatly loved by the Mistress of the realm.

The Mistress approached the tree and placed her hands upon it. “Hai love,” she said softly. A bough rustled, lowered down and brushed against the small of her back like a caress. Lorth had once heard about this, though he had disregarded it as a tale warriors tell over fire and drink in the wee hours. They called it the Om tree. Seeded by the stars, the tree rooted deeply into the iomor beneath the palace. It was said the tree knew things, could tell truth from lies, and saw through its bark and limbs to the very heart of the Old One herself. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Gardens

Gardens are not made by singing “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade. ~ Rudyard Kipling, Complete Verse

The Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstryA garden is a lively place. Plants reach into the soil and up to the sun with chaotic abandon, and yet there is balance; things emerge only in their time, and when the shadows of summer grow long, the garden bows out gracefully. I find joy in participating in this. For my part, I arrange things in nice patterns and keep order while at the same time nurturing the chaos.

Tansel of Loralin is born of three generations of wisewomen. Gardening is in her blood…but she has yet to learn the most profound secret her garden is keeping.

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees, and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high, bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath evergreen trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things she simply liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said exactly what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even she knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself. ~ The Winged Hunter

Flowers

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy? ~ Oscar Wilde

Echinacea, by F.T. McKinstryFlowers are spectacular creations. Brilliant, intense, fragile, and fleeting, flowers capture the essence of sensitive and yet enduring things. When a flower blooms, we know something important is happening.

In this excerpt, an immortal being is having a crisis for which simple things in nature, including flowers, offer some perspective.

The swamp kept singing, falling in harmony to her tears. Life abounded here; it could not grow fast enough. Snakes curled in the trees, muskrats ambled through the cattails to loam hollows, colorful birds fluttered about and bugs crept over rotting logs. A red hind drank from a pool. Rain tapped softly on emerald leaves and touched the flowers, causing them to bob around as if laughing. ~ “The Fifth Verse,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Mountains

The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change. ~ Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

Mountains, by F.T. McKinstryAn interesting thing about mountains is how they vary in character from one range to the next. There are old mountains, worn down by time and dark in their knowing; young, spectacular mountains crowned by unmelting snow; lush green jungle mountains; and rugged, arid ones. The creatures that live in the mountains know them.

For those living in the valleys, the surrounding mountains exude mystery, as in this excerpt:

The hermit spoke of a temple in the north, at the base of Math’s Eye, the mountain range that protected the realm. He said the War God slept there, beneath five points, five lines and a raven’s eye. So said the old tales. So said the mad. No one else spoke of such things. ~ “The War God Sleeps,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. 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.