Tansel of Loralin

Tansel of Loralin, by F.T. McKinstry

It is often said that characters in a story have a life of their own. This phenomenon can be startling to writers, myself included. Tansel first came to me in a fairy tale about a maiden whose love for her garden and a bad attitude towards wizards lead her to a remarkable discovery of her hidden power. But Tansel had more to say when her little story grew into an entire novel involving the forces of the Otherworld, two of the most powerful wizards in the land and a nasty family secret.

In the following excerpt, we are introduced to Tansel and the seeds of a shadow.

Excerpt

Some things did not stay well in gardens.

Tansel knew this, being a gardener like her mother, and her mother before her. She lived deep in the verdant, shadowy hills of Loralin Forest, in a one-room cottage made of river stones. Old clay pots of herbs and flowers crowded small windows with diamond-shaped panes. She owned one small table cluttered with plant stalks, dirt, pots and jars, a mortar and pestle, a knife with a stag-horn handle and a chair with an unraveling reed mat to sit on. She slept on a pallet by the hearth. Dominating the room, a rambling pantry held seeds, dried leaves, twigs, roots and bark in baskets, old cloth bags, stone and glass phials, jars, and wooden boxes. With these Tansel made a modest living.

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.

Her mother had once told her, Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined. The cottage, the garden and that mysterious piece of information were the only things she had left her young daughter of twelve summers before running away into the lands beyond Loralin like a cucumber vine on a compost heap.

Seven years later, Tansel knew what stayed in her garden and not.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Tansel appears in “The Trouble with Tansy,” a short story in Wizards, Woods and Gods; and in The Winged Hunter, an epic fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing. Tansel is also featured in Monsters and Gardening.

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

Deathseer

The Glass

Keeping a personal secret in the darkness of war is perilous, as secrets know the path to the light. Under the influence of a mysterious observatory, a high commander with the ability to see the hand of Death keeps his secret under the cloak of dreams and visions until he realizes, at great cost, that Death doesn’t take sides.

Excerpt

Liros awoke in the clutches of a recurring nightmare. As a white wolf, he saw through the eyes of a child. Drop the candle and run, run on bare feet, so quietly. The dream hovered in his body, his visceral identity and sense of self, an experience as vivid as waking life. Not quietly enough.

Surrounded. Warm tears fall into the open arms of the eternal Void.

As his consciousness returned, the feeling in his heart stood in anguished contrast to the well-built outpost where he lay, in the pre-dawn, surrounded by the watchful eyes of warriors. They called it Fentalon, named after a war god of the North with the head of a wolf. To Liros it felt like a prison.

A candle flickers out against the cold, damp earth.

He closed his eyes and exhaled as the miasma of his circumstance gathered around him. His fading dream darkened it like a bright light casting the long shadow of a crag.

The roar of the river hides the cries, the truth, even as it weeps.

He made a decision.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“DeathSeer” 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.

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

Immortal Longing

She had asked the stars, whales, rocks, the sun and moon.

She had asked terns, seals, herrings, crabs, and the white horses that roamed the cliffs on the western coast of Waleis.

She had asked the trees and the north wind.

She had asked the dead, their pale eyes staring.

She had even asked the beryl spire focusing the energies of the earth into a mighty web.

But nothing in Ealiron’s creation knew where the mortal shell of her child had gone.

Until one came, bearing news.

As she released the snow-white gull to the north, her immortal lover twinkled with the silence of deep winter on the hard, gray land.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Legends of sailors and wizards collide when an Otherworld being discovers its destiny in a mortal’s imagination. The Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. 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.

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.

The Bridge

The Bridge

Gods appear to wizards as one thing; to warriors, another. A priestess in search of love in the Otherworld has spent her life preparing for a planetary alignment that will materialize a beautiful nature spirit only she can perceive. But the path to her birthright plunges her into her blackest fears when she is abandoned to a war for which she is indirectly responsible.

Excerpt

The autumn sun cast long beams across the mauve, green and gold tapestry of the brushy field. A woman emerged from the shadows, breathing deeply as a cool breeze drew her cloak around her bare thighs and stirred the rose-violet oil on her skin. She spoke an ancient word from the pit of her womb and passed through the towering gate of Sol Keep, poised like a forbidding hand on the edge of the plain.

The High Master would know she had gone. But he would not know where. Or why.

A chill swept over her flesh as the naidrin’s voice caressed her mind in a whisper of branches, leaves and flowing water. Efae, he said in his gentle way. Where do you fly?

“You should know that,” Efae said aloud, addressing the tree line in the distance. “You told me in a dream last night. Now is the time. Tonight I will cross the Bridge, and we shall be together.”

The naidrin said nothing.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Bridge” 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.

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

The Chasm

Sunlight glimmered on new leaves
Stirred by a warm, fragrant breeze.
On the pads of a wolf, he moved
Over ferns, mossy stones,
The roots of ancient trees.
He followed the sound of water
And found a chasm.
It yawned before him, echoing with whispers.
He leaned over the edge
And gazed into the starless, endless Void.
“What is the true meaning of darkness?”
He looked up at the sound of his master’s voice.
On the far side of the abyss stood the Dark Warrior,
Creator of Ostarin.
The war god beckoned him to jump.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. A tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry, and love.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. 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.

Yarrow, Thyme and Thorn

My woman has a wandering eye;
Yarrow, thyme and thorn.
She eyes the ocean and the sky
While stitching sails, forlorn.
I got a kiss, and then a tear
As she bade me go;
But on the waves, my heart’s in fear:
My woman’s in the know.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron. Legends of sailors and wizards collide when an Otherworld being discovers its destiny in a mortal’s imagination.

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

The River

The Mage's Tower

A deep river flows by the mage’s tower.
The water, gray, green and yearning for the sea,
Gropes at the foundations with swirling fingers.
Stone is patient.
The mage’s woman dips her bucket into the course;
She is weeping again.
The river catches her tears and knows
Water is more patient than stone.
Frogs call the rain;
The tide, though distant, hears all water.
The moon whispers it.
Night pours down from an unseen shroud,
Lifting the river above the reeds
To the tower stones, cold as the mage’s heart.
The river does not respond to words, gestures
Or sigils.
It cradles the woman’s boat
Like a womb,
Rising, falling, spinning her away
From the echoes of the tower’s fall.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The River” was originally published in Volume 9, Issue 4 of Tales of the Talisman. This magazine features fine writers and artists of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Check it out.

Photography Prints

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