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.

Wildcards

Wildcards

An elite company of rangers defends the wilds of Dyrregin, the central realm in Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Seasoned, skilled in fighting, traversing and surviving in rough terrain and dangerous circumstances, these warriors serve both the King and the Old Gods. Their motto is, “We keep the balance when the gods turn away.” As they do, often enough.

Wilds

Rangers have an appreciation for beasts and wild creatures, as they often share spaces with and gain wisdom from them. They also appreciate their leave time, and while you can probably guess the sorts of things they do with that, I’ll spare you those details and tell you about a game called “wildcards,” a rangers’ favorite.

Most taverns in Dyrregin keep decks of wildcards for their patrons. Any barkeep worth his or her salt will hand a deck to rangers when they arrive. Each card in the deck shows a wild creature in its natural habitat, and represents its abilities and place in the order of things.

Mouse WildcardThere are many games that can be played, but in the most basic, each player gets one card, and the dealer picks a landscape. The idea is to employ an animal’s powers to outsmart or destroy your opponents. Some creatures are more suited to certain places than others, and knowledge of animals’ strengths and weaknesses is a plus. So while drawing a predator is desirable, it isn’t a guaranteed win. With some imagination and the right landscape, a humbler creature could take the game.

For example, drawing a frog could put you in the sights of a raptor or a fox; but if you contrived to be plucked up by a Blackthorn witch and put into a potion, your death could take out something else too. A mouse, which knows the safe places in the world, might be at a disadvantage in the wilds, but could rule in a city. And so on.

Crow WildcardCrow is a trickster, like the joker in traditional cards. Here, anything can happen, the more unexpected the better. Draw the crow and piss off your buddies. You win.

Players who do well at wildcards tend to be as resourceful and clever as the natural world itself.

Of course, most rangers will tell you the game is best played after a few too many drinks.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you like the animal paintings, you can see more on Fine Art America in Wild Things.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Grab Some Popcorn

Warriors, gods, goblins and crows. Tricked-out artwork. Epic music. The trailer for Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, is now live. Click on the creepy guy to watch!

Draugr

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Pattern Sense

Pattern Sense, Cover Art

The heart is a powerful force, more powerful than the earth’s own magic. In this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Excerpt

It all started with a mouse.

Persistent creatures, mice, driven as all things are by the turn of winter’s gaze, but with the added cunning of the nocturnal. In early autumn, they found a crack in the eaves of Melisande’s cottage on the wooded outskirts of Ull. The swordsman had repaired the crack before returning to the towers and yards of Osprey on Sea, the great hall over the snow-draped Thorgrim Mountains, where he served. What a swordsman knew of carpentry, well, that was open to question. But he knew other things. Nice things.

As the moon waxed, the mice kept Melisande up at night, their tiny feet pattering in the rafters, claws scraping, teeth gnawing. How such a small creature could make such a racket eluded her almost as much as her lover’s carpentry skills. The cat, being wise in the ways of the season, knew all, for he did not sleep at night, not when the moon was bright and certainly not when leaves spiraled down to carpet the frosty earth. No, he hunted. But the mice knew that.

It was the eve of the Hunter’s Moon when Melisande first noticed something odd in her latest knitting project, a thick winter tunic for the young goatherd who lived at the bottom of the hill. The wool, deep brown as the smoke-stained rafters of the cottage ceiling, formed gaps where the sleeve joined the yoke, much like the cracks between a wall and a roof. Deep in her mind, the observation awoke a visceral awareness of interconnection, the wisdom of the natural world, a tapestry of patterns, lines, curves and counts as perfectly cast as a well-stitched swatch.

Pattern sense, her mother once called it; at least Melisande thought it might have been her, though it could have been her grandmother, or one of the old women in the village. Come to think of it, her mother had turned a dark eye on such things. Being of a wilder mind, Melisande picked up her needles, hummed softly and wove a neat kitchener stitch over the gaps in the armpit of her work.

She did not hear the mice that night, the night after, or the night after that. Melisande wondered if the cat’s vigilance had finally paid off. Clever hunters, cats. So she told herself as her pattern sense curled quietly as a snake in an ivy patch, to rest with both eyes open.

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

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Originally published in Tales of the Talisman Volume 10, Issue 1.

“Pattern Sense” 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.

This story originally inspired Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. When the gods declare war, the mortals of an ancient realm are plunged into a swords-and-sorcery storm of bloodshed, deception, betrayal and the powers of the earth.

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

It all started with a mouse….

The dormouse is found mostly in Europe. A romantic creature, it has a long furry tail, beautiful markings and can hibernate for a remarkably long time. It tends to show up in fairy tales and fantasy stories such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

This dormouse, perched in a ivy-covered tree in autumn under a frosty moon, was inspired by a short story I wrote called “Pattern Sense,” in which the nocturnal activities of said mouse cause a woman to discover magical powers in the stitches of her latest knitting project. “Pattern Sense” appears in the print edition of Wizards, Woods and Gods and Tales of the Talisman, Volume 10, Issue 1.

Photography Prints

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