The Rites of Hawthorn

Blooming Hawthorn Tree

A lovely hawthorn tree grows by my house, in the woods near a small pond. For most of the year it blends with the surroundings, a tangle of shadows and light. But when it blooms, it takes on an otherworldly presence.

A Druid sacred tree, the hawthorn is traditionally associated with the realm of Faery. With its thorns and red berries it has a fearsome reputation for giving power to the spoken words of Druids and witches. Its berries, leaves and flowers were used to treat heart conditions. It is said that where a lone hawthorn grows on a hill in proximity to a spring or a well, a doorway to Faery is near; and where it grows with oak and ash one may see faeries. A blooming hawthorn tree marks the official beginning of summer, the festival of Beltaine or May Day. As such the tree and its blooms are associated with fertility, weddings and maidenhood.

A warrior becomes strong by the scars on his body; a wizard becomes strong by the scars on his heart. The story of The Winged Hunter delves into the heart of a powerful wizard named Eaglin of Ostarin. Among other things he is a priest who serves a primordial goddess of birth, death and transformation. He is trained in the Rites of Hawthorn, through which he initiates maidens into the sexual mysteries. When one such initiation goes horribly wrong, he bears the scar for years. As it often goes with wizards, it takes a bloodthirsty immortal predator called a sioros to trick him into facing his dark side and healing the wound.

Shadows enveloped the palace of Eusiron as Eaglin stumbled from the trees to the lower gate. In the wavering light of a cresset, his mother stood, tall and dressed in black. Slowly, he dropped to his knees and stared through a shroud of tears at her hands holding a damp scrap of finery, pale as a maiden and stitched with flower-laden hawthorn boughs. “We found her in the river,” she said softly.

“But I did not—” he blurted, shattered by the news.

“You did not understand that you cast the shadow of a god.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Winged Hunter, Cover ArtThe Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Tansel is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Fey, they call her.
Her aunt, a dabbler in hedge witchery, calls her cursed.
To the most powerful wizards in the land, she is an enigma.

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

Old Mother Void

I found a little snakeskin in my woodpile yesterday. Well, what was left of it, anyway. A woodpile is a rough place—which, of course, is why the snake went there to perform its sacred ritual. Like a wild-eyed crone in a fairy tale, I gingerly gathered up the papery skin and put it in a safe place. You know, in case I need it some day.

The timing of this discovery is worth noting. In traditional animal lore, the snake is revered as a creature of transformation and rebirth, symbolized by the periodic shedding of its skin. A passage through the Dark Night, the Void, this process is part of all life, from the tiniest seed to the universe itself. In the wheel of the seasons it is honored as All Hallows Eve, when the veils to the Otherworld are thin and the living mingle with the dead. This is a time to acknowledge Old Mother Void and to make friends with creatures that tread the ‘tween paths without fear.

River Prowling, by F.T. McKinstry

The Old Mother has a tendency to cast a chill on the hearts of mortals. Hers is the prickle on one’s spine when wind whispers in the chimney; the cold, crushing tide of grief; the chasm a writer stares into while waiting for the words; or the visceral knowledge that it’s time to release something that no longer serves. And yet, while implacable, the Old Mother does have one’s best interests at heart. After all, the snake doesn’t fear as it slithers into a dark woodpile to shed its skin.

So I’ll keep my creepy little snakeskin, thank you, to remind me of that. Heh.

Ribbon Snake, by F.T. McKinstry

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

Earth Blood

Earth Blood inkitt

The earth keeps secrets. In this short story, a warrior discovers ancient power in his veins when he’s plunged into the political corruption of a war devised to hide the truth of his mother’s death.

Excerpt

The forest nodded beneath the subtle insistence of autumn’s touch as a rider thundered through. Boughs, brush, ferns and fallen leaves rippled in his wake, seeking quiescence. Another winter, a long one this year, if the geese and caterpillars knew anything.

Cloaked in the fragrance of blood, the Captain of the North Thorn Guard leaned forward in his saddle, breathing heavily beneath a turbid river of pain strewn with the corpses of his slashed and broken company, their fair eyes staring at nothing.

Harald, he heard his mother say. Fear not the earth.

In one moon’s cycle, he would bow his head to the keening of women, swaying and clutching root knives at the Feast of Shadows. Women for whose blood his men had died at the hands of outlanders, hired cutthroats ravaging the Realm of Five Hawthorns for nothing but stories.

Fifteen suns past, the same women had stood before their mossy altars in silence after finding his mother in a meadow surrounded by a late summer tapestry of goldenrod, purple aster and bramble, her head crushed by a stone. So it was told. Just into manhood, his black hair hanging in strands dripping cold rain, Harald had not been allowed to see her. Instead, his father gave him a sword.

Trust not the earth, he had advised.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Earth Blood” 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 Om Tree

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Trees know things. A tree planted by a god at the dawn of a forest and raised in close proximity to an energy well beneath a wizards’ citadel knows a great many things. In this short story, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Excerpt

In the beginning stood a tree.

I always start my tales with that; it is fitting, as I have stood here for so long. I have spread my roots on many worlds, being seeded by an undying star named Om. He has a child named Ealiron, the creator of this world on which I now grow. He knows I am here, of course. When I took root as a sapling, he sang to me. A charming fellow, really.

But my tale begins with a mortal. He calls himself a wizard, but he is not like any wizard I know. His name is Lorth, which in Om’s tongue roughly means “water-loving root.” A nice name for a most unsavory man. I call him the hunter.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Om Tree” originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman, Volume 7, Issue 3.

“The Om Tree” 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 protagonist of “The Om Tree,” Lorth of Ostarin, is also the main character in The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. An Om tree appears in the novel as well; it stands in the wizards’ citadel itself.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.