The Gray Isles

The Gray Isles Cover Art

Some fish stories should be taken seriously. Very seriously. Introducing the Second Edition of The Gray Isles, in which the legends of sailors and wizards collide in a tale of witchery, secrets, curses, and the birth of an immortal.

Revised and reformatted, this is Book Two of the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

In the Gray Isles, a northern realm cloaked in legends and storms, lives a secret. For thousands of years it lay in the Otherworld, known only in the imaginations of sailors. Now, it has surfaced; first to Eadred, a wizard banished by his kind after being cursed by a witch; and then to Hemlock, a fisherman’s son orphaned by the sea. When their paths collide, a change is set into motion that the heavens watch with dread; for the legends tell, it heralds the birth of an immortal and the death of the realm.

Lorth of Ostarin is a formidable wizard with a turbulent past. An elite assassin and servant of the old powers, he is given a mission by his masters to question Eadred, a high-ranking wizard banished for breaking the codes of his order. Lorth arrives in a fog of eerie impressions to find both Eadred and Hemlock missing, a mystery that swiftly deteriorates into a manhunt that plunges Lorth into a tricky world of visions, secrets, legends, and island politics.

Some secrets are best kept hidden, and madness often hides wisdom. In his quest to lift a curse responsible for his fall and subsequent exile, Eadred has gathered great knowledge of Hemlock’s origins. Through him, Lorth reaches the sobering conclusion that Hemlock is not what he seems. Unfortunately, Lorth is not the only one who has discovered Hemlock’s secret. Racing time, he must bare his sword against an army, violate discretion and risk his own stature in order to free Hemlock from an otherworldly fate before the forces of earth and sea are unleashed upon the mortal world.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 170 pages
Can be read as a standalone story.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.
Add to Goodreads

“Wow. Gorgeous. Highly recommended.” – Amazon Customer Review (See Entire Review)

“F.T. McKinstry has a lyrical voice that suits the ancient magic she describes. The majesty of the gods and mystical forces of the novel entranced me…” – David Lee Summers, Editor of Tales of the Talisman and author of Owl Dance

“The Gray Isles is a very tight and compelling tale of suspense on rocky shores and the high seas.” – Alex Willging, Mr. Rhapsodist

“The strength of this novel lies in its descriptions of Hemlock’s psychological states as he undergoes his psychic changes. It also abounds in excellent descriptions of emotions and sensations.” – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer Series

“The Gray Isles is an incredible mystery set in an incredible mythical land. Its story captivated and enthralled me from beginning to end.” – Aimee at redheadedbooklover (See Entire Review)

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

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

The Gray Isles

The Gray Isles Cover Art

The Gray Isles is the second book in the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

In the Gray Isles, a northern realm cloaked in legends and storms, lives a secret. For thousands of years it lay in the Otherworld, known only in the imaginations of sailors. Now, it has surfaced; first to Eadred, a wizard banished by his kind after being cursed by a witch; and then to Hemlock, a fisherman’s son orphaned by the sea. When their paths collide, a change is set into motion that the heavens watch with dread; for the legends tell, it heralds the birth of an immortal and the death of the realm.

Lorth of Ostarin is a formidable wizard with a turbulent past. An elite assassin and servant of the old powers, he is given a mission by his masters to question Eadred, a high-ranking wizard banished for breaking the codes of his order. Lorth arrives in a fog of eerie impressions to find both Eadred and Hemlock missing, a mystery that swiftly deteriorates into a manhunt that plunges Lorth into a tricky world of visions, secrets, legends, and island politics.

Some secrets are best kept hidden, and madness often hides wisdom. In his quest to lift a curse responsible for his fall and subsequent exile, Eadred has gathered great knowledge of Hemlock’s origins. Through him, Lorth reaches the sobering conclusion that Hemlock is not what he seems. Unfortunately, Lorth is not the only one who has discovered Hemlock’s secret. Racing time, he must bare his sword against an army, violate discretion and risk his own stature in order to free Hemlock from an otherworldly fate before the forces of earth and sea are unleashed upon the mortal world.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Second Edition
Novel, 170 pages
Can be read as a standalone story.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.
Glossary
Excerpt
Map of Ealiron: Sourcesee and East
Map of Ealiron: The Gray Isles

Add to Goodreads

“Wow. Gorgeous. Highly recommended.” – Amazon Customer Review (See Entire Review)

“F.T. McKinstry has a lyrical voice that suits the ancient magic she describes. The majesty of the gods and mystical forces of the novel entranced me…” – David Lee Summers, Editor of Tales of the Talisman and author of Owl Dance

“The Gray Isles is a very tight and compelling tale of suspense on rocky shores and the high seas.” – Alex Willging, Mr. Rhapsodist

“The strength of this novel lies in its descriptions of Hemlock’s psychological states as he undergoes his psychic changes. It also abounds in excellent descriptions of emotions and sensations.” – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer Series

“The Gray Isles is an incredible mystery set in an incredible mythical land. Its story captivated and enthralled me from beginning to end.” – Aimee at redheadedbooklover (See Entire Review)

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

© 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.

One Fey Child

In the Gray Isles, sailors tell a legend of a beautiful immortal creature born from the union of a star and the sea.

Wizards believe the birth of such a being heralds the annihilation of the realm.

One fey child knows the truth.

 
 
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.

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.

Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

Ancient cultures worshiped the sun, moon, rivers, sea and stars as gods. Among other things these forces give life, govern tides and weather, guide travelers on their way and inspire awe, wonder, curiosity and imagination. Sometimes bright, sometimes dark, mysterious and inexorable, these aspects of nature influence every facet of life. They are also capable of destroying it.

In this final installment of Nature as Muse, we’ll delve into how watery forces and celestial luminaries have influenced the fantasy world of Ealiron.

Sun

Thou sun, of this great world both eye and soul. ~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

The Source, by F.T. McKinstryThe consciousness of Ealiron is symbolized by the sun, the origin of light and life. The entity himself is often called the Source.

In Aenspeak, the wizard’s tongue, the word solsaefil means “Sun Key.” The Sun Key is an architectural construct that uses the crystal focusing towers maintained by the Keepers of the Eye to mark the movement of the sun. The Sun Keys were built centuries ago by the Keepers and integrated into the castles and landscapes where they lived. To this day, the Sun Keys are honored and maintained by the Keepers’ highest ranked wizards.

In the following excerpt, a wizard named Freil explains this to his friend Tansel.

Night had fallen and the moon cast silvery rays into the trees. After a long silence, Freil asked, “Has your great grandfather explained to you about the Muin Waeltower?”

Tansel shifted positions in the saddle, which had grown uncomfortable. “He began to teach me about the stones in the garden. They are different shapes and sizes, and have crystals in them. The beams from the tower shine on them sometimes. The plants gather thickly around some of them, and avoid others. He said things grow and live by the Old One through patterns?”

“Identity patterns, the structural awareness of gods. Their essence rises from the Void to know itself. Has he told you about the Sun Key?”

She craned her face up. “What’s that?”

Solsaefil, in Aenspeak. The Hall of Muin is designed to use the Waeltower to direct light into celestial patterns. The stones in your garden are part of this. It marks the seasons, the movement of the stars. Tonight, the light beams from the tower will converge on the south side of the hall into a geometric pattern that corresponds to this time of year, just like the oak tree or the chamomile.”

Tansel sat up in excitement. “Is this why the halls are so strange, and the light shines into odd places—crystals in the walls, on the floor?”

“Aye. Every line and point is part of the greater whole.”

“The patterns that form on the full moons, what do they do?”

“They form on the quadrants of the year, each solstice and equinox; that is, when the sun is closest to the earth, or farthest away, or when the day and night are equal in length. This year, the summer solstice happens to align with the Rose Moon. This will open a portal to the Old One.”

“What happens?”

“A gate is projected onto a physical place. What happens there would depend on what you brought with you. At this time of year, daylight reigns; the light of the sun is at its peak. This corresponds to the maternal aspect of the Old One, she who nurtures, grows, gives birth. Gardens bloom and flourish. So where that energy is within you, you might see something. Or you might not.” ~ The Winged Hunter

Moon

The moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. ~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Moonrise, by F.T. McKinstryThe moon emanates peace and mystery like a fragrance . It is a powerful force governing life cycles through the rhythmic rise and fall of the liquid universe. In Ealiron, the moon is a reflection of the Old One, a primeval goddess of birth, life and transformation. The phases of the moon represent the nature of the goddess herself.

In this excerpt, a warrior departs the shelter of a palace under a dark moon that cloaks him in magic.

The Snow Moon had come and gone, and the new moon gazed unseen from the pre-dawn horizon as Lorth led Freya from the stables to the High Pass gates. He wore a ghostly energy shield that blended him with the moon and the mare. He pulled his hood over his face and made a habitual inventory of his person: bow and quiver, sword, longknife, silver Leaf girl in his boot. Freya carried his snowshoes, supplies and enough winter gear to keep him alive in the wilds for a while. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

River

The river is everywhere. ~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

River, by F.T. McKinstryRivers have identities arising from the nature of the landscapes through which they flow. Like any body of water, a river has many moods. The Westlight is a lively river that flows down from a mountain spring in the citadel of Eyrie and down through the city that surrounds it to the south and east. In my upcoming story Water Dark, the Westlight changes from a rocky, tumbling river into a hostile force controlled by a wicked priestess. A wizard named Urien must save his apprentice Rosamund from being drowned.

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, then 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. ~ Water Dark

Sea

…and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

The Sea, by F.T. McKinstryIn a Keepers’ library on the remote island of Urd is a book entitled Legend and the Sea: Interaction. It discusses, in esoteric detail, the relationship between the awesome and mysterious nature of the sea and the stories mankind creates around it. It says: The 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. In other words, while a sailor might pray to the sea in a desperate situation, a seasoned sailor is not foolish enough to expect her to listen.

In the following excerpt, three wizards, one of them a sailor with the power to work the elements, run into seas that care little for their knowledge.

An enormous splash resounded off the bow. Samolan swore an oath involving some mountain god as the sky lit up, followed by a thunderous crack. Rain pelted the lantern, sending hissing smoke into the wind. A gust slammed into the mainsail. Samolan eased it out and changed course slightly to avoid running downwind.

“Cimri!” Lorth shouted. “Can you calm this?”

“Go see what he’s doing,” Samolan said.

Lorth was already heading forward. He held onto the boat, shielding his face as the wind shifted and pummeled him from the west. Waves crashed around the hull in chaotic fury, splashing over his feet.

When he reached the foredeck, he clung to the edge of the cabin and stared into the dark. “Cimri!” The sky lit up again.

The foredeck was empty. ~ The Gray Isles

Stars

Not just beautiful, though—the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. ~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Stars, by F.T. McKinstryFew things bring forth wonder and dreams as stars do. But to one young man, the brightest star in the constellation of Eala, the Swan, is much more than a dream.

Sailors called his realm the Swan, for so it appeared to them, the pattern of stars shining on dusk’s fading arc in the seeding time of year. They knew his name, Ciron, as its heart and brightest star. But she knew his touch. She had lain with him in the warm waters on the shortest night, when the wind from the stars caressed the depths and revealed the Gates of the Palace of Origin, and conceived.

On that night, Ciron sang a spell that brought their child into a human womb. He sang to protect the child from water. The Shining Ones did not always say what they knew; nor had Ciron said, even when she wept and thrashed in the glistening sea beneath his cold light, where her child had gone. First a boy, now a man, he had vanished with the death of his innocence. ~ The Gray Isles

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Root and Stone

© 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.