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.

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 Wizard’s Library

A library is a beautiful thing. It is a sanctuary of the mind, silent, looking within itself. Sometimes I figure everything we know must be in a library somewhere. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is always another book to place on the shelf.

A Wizard's Tower, by F.T. McKinstryThe idea of a wizard’s library is ridiculously romantic, conjuring up images of dark wood, labyrinthine passages, an old chair covered with cat hair and tables full of creepy things like crystal spheres, a skull, dried-up roots or a stuffed crow. Books, scrolls and pages fill every space, stacked into the vaults of a stone tower, a keep or a woodland cottage. In these books is all manner of arcane information, much of it long forgotten except to the wise.

Urien of Eyeroth, the protagonist of Water Dark, is a wizard of the Order of Raven, the highest order in the Keepers of the Eye. One must read a great many things to become a Raven. So the story begins, with Urien sitting high in the Keepers’ Archive reading a tome that explores the intricacies of creation. The passage goes like this:

Desire gives formless identity structure in the form of conscious boundaries. These boundaries are subject to the forces of the Old One, who destroys old structures to create anew. ~ The Theory of Structure and Formlessness

Old BooksThere is nothing romantic about this. The heart has a way of disturbing the dust that settles on one’s beliefs. No matter how much a wizard knows, there are always dark places in his mind. All his books conspire against him. Said another way:

The Old One has a dark side that lurks in the hearts of those with power, scattering clear thought, blinding them to wisdom. Artfully, she lays the thorny paths of growth, leading souls into her realms to be stripped of old patterns. Thus, wisdom is ofttimes gained through folly, and light through darkness. ~ On the Nature of Water

After crossing a wicked priestess, Urien trips into an emotional, dangerous river of experiences involving an ex-lover and a beautiful apprentice. But wizards don’t tend to get away with things; they are too close to the source. Throughout the story, passages from books in the Keepers’ Archive whisper in Urien’s mind, reminding him of the things he knows—and doesn’t know yet.

There’s more to being a wizard than just reading books, unfortunately.

In the calm, deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. ~ The Theory of Structure and Formlessness

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Cover Art for Water DarkWater Dark, a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

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

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.

Gods and Cats

Love is whole. Love cannot be divided from itself. Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind. – From The Old One’s Domain

The greater a wizard’s power, the bigger his problems—and the higher the price he pays for not attending to them.

Order of Raven, by F.T. McKinstry

Standard for the Order of Raven

Urien of Eyeroth belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. He has the ability to shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog. He can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. He knows the Dark Tongue, a primeval language spoken by the votaries of the Old One.

He also has a broken heart. And it has driven him to make some lousy decisions.

Excerpt

Raven at Night, by F.T. McKinstryUrien of Eyeroth, a Master of the Eye of the Order of Raven, hurried along the winding forest path beneath a sky shrouded in midnight. Restless wind stirred the trees, and the air smelled of rain and moldering leaves. The light from his torch painted the barren forest in shades of his own reflection, black-haired, gray-eyed and pale for want of a touch. He pulled his cloak close, unable to determine which made him more uncomfortable: the dreary woods or the new moon settling onto his heart like a cloud of moths.

Earlier, he had been ensconced in a comfortable chamber high in the citadel of Eyrie, home of the Keepers of the Eye, reading a text on the principles of structure and formlessness. He had not wanted to leave when the sun descended into the mists, and dusk cloaked the land in damp, unpleasant cold. But he had agreed, under the hollow gaze of the high priestess Wilima, to look into the Void.

He had to ignore his unease that something bad would happen if he did not.

Water Dark, a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful.
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Solar Breath

Frost Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

I have always loved the idea of naming the full moons. Traditionally, these names reflect nature through the seasons, and vary with history and culture; for example, between English Medieval, Norse, Celtic or Native American. This beautiful lore gives rise to visual and emotional impressions, the province of the moon itself.

While working on The Chronicles of Ealiron, I wrote and illustrated a series of verses to capture the essence of each cycle using tree, plant and animal lore. This is called solaeson, which in the wizards’ tongue means “the solar breath.” Some day these verses will find a home in the series.

In celebration of the Celtic New Year, I’ve begun with November.

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

An Archetypal Bestiary

To me, the most mysterious and beautiful thing about writing is the process itself. This is an exploration into the Otherworld; like a hapless warrior in a medieval tale, I venture in with my sword and cloak not knowing what will appear from the shadows. I like to be startled.

The Otherworld loves a good laugh. It’s full of tricksters, beautiful beings and demons, a virtual parade of mirrors in which I see myself in the form of fantastic places, characters and events. While this is easy to romanticize, it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve often regretted getting what I asked for, or been bewildered by the obvious to the extent that it spins my life around—suddenly, it’s not about the story anymore. I’ve written things that took me years to understand and synthesize. But that’s where the mystery comes in.

I love supernatural archetypes…but then again, I’m friends with most of them. Here are some of my favorites in action.

Odin

Odin, by F.T. McKinstryIn Norse mythology, Odin is the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He is also a shapeshifter and considered fickle, not to be trusted. He brings to mind the old Celtic stories of poets and magicians who, in their search for truth and pattern, end up going mad and wandering bewildered through the wilds. A patron of writers, if ever there was one.

“The Eye of Odin” is a science fiction story woven into the myth of Odin. It’s about the daughter of a warrior clan who made her fortune as a fighter for a military contractor who harnessed the powers of the higher mind. When she is targeted for discovering a secret beneath their dominion, she must learn the nature of a much greater power: love.

Master of magic, god of war, Odin wanders alone.  – From “The Eye of Odin,” available for free on Smashwords.

Shapeshifter

The Old One, by F.T. McKinstryThe Otherworld itself has the nature of a shapeshifter. You think you are looking at one thing, but it’s something else; the psyche wears garments that mimic the forces of nature in symbolic ways. The shapeshifter reveals things through deception. What better thing to leap out while writing a story of a wizard-assassin about to fall to his own machinations? She appears from the Otherworld with a message he won’t understand until he knows what she is.

He drew one more arrow from the shadows of wind and snow and leveled the black, shiny tip through the trees, drifting along in a track as the lord rode down. Then the small man called out—in a woman’s voice. She stopped and turned, slowly pushed back her hood to reveal the face of a wolf, gray with a white muzzle, her eyes flashing moon pale as they leapt over the surroundings.  – From The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in The Chronicles of Ealiron.

Loerfalos

Mistress of the Sea, by F.T. McKinstryThe unconscious mind has often been compared to the sea. An awesome force, vast, mysterious and mostly unseen, the sea is a metaphor par excellence for the forces of the Feminine, the primeval void from which all things come. The loerfalos, which in the wizards’ tongue means “serpent of green darkness,” is an enormous immortal sea serpent. A creature of the Otherworld, she moves between dimensions, making her elusive and difficult to believe in. Her appearance heralds transformation on a large scale…usually unpleasant. When I began writing The Gray Isles, she was waiting for me. And she had quite a lot to say.

Voices rippled the surface above like the wings of a mayfly, an irritating vibration caught in the rays of the rising sun filtering into the surrounding darkness. One voice she knew; the other, she knew as the blood of an offering cast into the infinite flow of her creatures. Untold shades, hunter and hunted, the souls of drowned sailors, thousands of pearly eggs for every one that breathed, they whispered of chaos in balance.  – From The Gray Isles, Book Two in The Chronicles of Ealiron.

Sioros

Winged Hunter, by F.T. McKinstryThis beastie showed up in my consciousness with a roundhouse kick. He is the driving force in my novel Crowharrow, which is the folk name for him. In the wizard’s tongue, sioros means “destroyer in the air.” A rare creature with the body of a man and the wings of a raven, he is immortal, as are all properly integrated archetypes. Predatory and tricky, he is a powerful seducer of women. Like the loerfalos, the sioros is of the Otherworld, and moves between. While not inherently evil, he can seem so. A supernatural force, he burns with the fire of gods and confronting him—or worse, falling in love—is exceedingly foolish.

She leaned down and plucked a crimson columbine and some meadowsweet. She paused, and then straightened her back as the forest eaves stirred on the edge of the field. Something pale moved there, with a darker shadow surrounding it. A chill rippled over her heart as it came into focus, a magnificent man with the wings of a raven twice his height. Clad in the forest, he moved with the grace of dreams, his feathers settling in whispers as he turned and gazed at her from eyes the color of stars.  – From Crowharrow, Book Three in The Chronicles of Ealiron.

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