Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and summons a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Water Dark

Water Dark Cover Art

In the calm, deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits.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. Water Dark is a standalone novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, and features Eaglin of Ostarin, a main character in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

This novella 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.

Water Dark was originally published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In the western-most crumbling halls of a mountain citadel lives a lonely wizard named Urien, a master of his art and a fledgling priest of a primordial goddess of transformation. Though his training is extensive, no training could prepare him for a broken heart. For years he has lived on the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such wounds do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess, Urien’s heart reveals itself as a grim warning from the goddess herself, in the shape of a wolf.

In the wake of this unsettling experience, Urien discovers that his most gifted apprentice, a beautiful, wild-tempered woman—and the partner of his erstwhile lover—is in grave danger. A series of swift-moving mishaps including a second warning and a badly backfired protection spell lands Urien into a love triangle that exposes not only his deepest desires but also the black machinations of the priestess who deceived him. When she wields her full power against him, he must reconcile his heart in order to save his lovers and himself from isolation and death.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novella, 50 pages
Map: Ealiron: Sourcesee and West
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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“This is my introduction to the literature of FT McKinstry, and I’m positively in love with her writing style!” – R.A. Sears, The Ragnarok Legacy (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark was an engaging dark fantasy. It was very well written, plot driven, and pulled me in immediately.” – Wicked Readings by Tawania (See Entire Review)

“Water Dark is a tale that should delight both fantasy fans and devoted followers of F.T. McKinstry. It provides an unexpected conclusion keeping the novel rather cryptic and mysterious…” – Writer Wonderland (See Entire Review)

“Like her full legenth novels, this story is well thought out and told in such poetic, beautiful language. A very enjoyable story!” – Amazon Customer Review

As a long story), Water Dark is an ideal length for deepening our understanding of the psychic forces at play in the world of Ealiron. The story focuses on the complex interplay of four characters and explores their powers, their secrets and their loves, their battles of wills, their manipulations and treacheries, their sense of tragedy and loss. – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer series (See Entire Review)

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Wizards, Woods and Gods

WWG Print Cover Art

The Otherworld takes shape in this collection of twelve stories told on a rich, fairytale tapestry of swords, sorcery, romance, dreams, visions and verse. Some of these stories inspired my novels; others were inspired by them; and some take place in the same worlds. Many of these stories have been published in fantasy/scifi magazines.

This second edition, available in ebook and print, includes Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world featured in the Chronicles of Ealiron. The first edition ebook of Wizards, Woods and Gods was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2012; and Water Dark was published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Click on the following stories for illustrations and excerpts.

Earth Blood – The earth keeps secrets. 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.

The Om Tree – 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 story, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Pattern Sense – It all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

The War God Sleeps – When a lush, fertile land is seized by drought, a lonely hermit’s son ventures deep into the hills in search of water and there awakes a beautiful, yet terrible god whom the world has learned to live without.

The Fifth Verse – An ancient immortal entity defies the rules of her kind by falling in love with a mortal warrior, an indiscretion that leaves her grieving, pregnant and dependent on the help of a wizard whose army was responsible for the death of her beloved.

Deathseer – Under the influence of a mysterious observatory, the commander of a fearsome army is trapped in a conflict that eventually costs him his honor and the life of his brother, and drives him to accept an inborn magical ability that changes his destiny.

The Trouble with Tansy – An orphaned girl on the threshold of womanhood inherits a splendid, mysterious garden from three generations of wisewomen. When a roguish wizard attempts to impress her by disrupting the seasons, she must turn to the old powers for help.

Marked – The mother of a fey child learns the pitfalls of mingling with immortals when her boy is taken by a ferocious winged monster at the request of the god who fathered him.

Eating Crow – A masterful, wayward shapeshiftress angers a wizard who curses her by summoning a diabolical immortal hunter that puts her near death and forces her to seek the wizard’s cat, a gentle, mystical creature that alone can heal her wounds.

The Bridge – A visionary who spent her life preparing for a planetary alignment that will materialize a beautiful nature spirit only she can perceive, descends into her blackest fears when she is abandoned to a war for which she is indirectly responsible.

The Origin – A woodsman discovers that he is a god who created everything around him to know the love of a woman whose mortality drives him to the brink of annihilation.

Water Dark – In the calm deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. This novella is 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.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover ArtSecond Edition
175 pages
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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Hunter’s Rede

The Hunter's Rede Cover Art

Introducing the The Hunter’s Rede, a swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love. This story begins the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

Lorth is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.

The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.

In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 322 pages
Edited by Leslie Karen Lutz
Includes a map and a glossary.
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Map: Ealiron: Sourcesee and West
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Related Blog Posts

Lorth of Ostarin
Shades of Instinct
Eaglin of Ostarin
Ealiron: The Keepers of the Eye
Where Veils are Thin

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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 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.

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.

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry

It’s been said that one doesn’t know how complex a tree is until one tries to paint it. The same can be said of writing. Some days, conveying the essence of something using words is about as easy as shapeshifting into a dragonfly. For this reason, writing stories has given me an awareness of nature that surpasses objectivity.

Nature lives in the confluence of knowledge and imagination. In a story, nature can serve as a setting, a threat, a friend, a symbol or a metaphor. Animals, trees, landscapes or seasons can convey moods, meaning or visuals to characters and situations. The natural world is an infinite palette of impressions. The wizards in my worlds attain their powers in hierarchies defined by the correspondences between trees, birds, colors and geometric symbols. My protagonists have animal friends, can speak to animals or pools using ancient languages, shapeshift into wild creatures, trees or mist, and interact with imaginary beings that are born of stars or reflect the essence of earth, sea or sky. At a deeper level, the manner of a cat or the sound of wind in a tree can describe a face, a mood or the way someone moves. It can describe a personal cataclysm.

Words and nature belong together.

This series of posts will feature some of my favorite flora and fauna, landscapes and luminaries, including illustrations and excerpts from my books and stories. We’ll start with some mammals: the ubiquitous cat, powerful wolf, sensitive hare, clever fox, and graceful fawn.

Cat

Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons. ~ Robertson Davies

Oona Creeping, by F.T. McKinstryCats run my life and I only half joke about it. With characteristic poise, they pad into my work and influence things, elegant, elusive, predatory, fey, cavalier. Aside from inspiring similes and metaphors, cats also star as characters in their own right. In the following excerpt, an assassin named Lorth talks to a feline friend. Formidable though he is, Lorth likes animals.

Smiling, he turned as a small orange cat leapt from the edge of the pier and trotted to his feet, her tail raised and curling at the tip. Lorth had learned a long time ago that energy shields did not fool animals; they saw right through them. He knelt and moved his hand over her fur as she rubbed her body against him, purring loudly. “Graemalkin,” he said, using the Aenspeak word for a cat. “I explained this, ay? Where I go, you cannot follow.”The Hunter’s Rede

Wolf

All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. ~ Margaret Atwood

Gray Wolf, by F.T. McKinstryTo honor this noble creature, I gave it a special place by associating it with the most powerful and mysterious deity in the world of Ealiron: the Old One, the primordial, feminine force of cycles, birth and death and the Mother of all things. On those rare occasions that she appears, it is usually in the form of a wolf.

A long winter in the wilds would give one chilling respect for wolves. When a human being expresses wolf-like traits, a similar thing happens, though whether it comes from awe or fear depends on the perceiver.

Lorth spoke a word and came into focus, though he had learned from experience that his features, the ghost-pale skin of a Northman with the gold-green eyes of a wolf, were almost as unnerving to a Tarthian as the shadowy form of a cloaking spell.The Hunter’s Rede

Hare

Drumming is not the way to catch a hare. ~ English Proverb

Snowshoe Hare, by F.T. McKinstryThe hare is nocturnal, elusive and careful, as many things hunt them. It is also associated with the otherworld, the between realms, which gives it an eldritch air. The hare is a creature of the Old One. In this excerpt, a master shapeshiftress is in the form of a hare when she discerns the presence of something sinister in the forest.

In a warm burrow sheltered by blackberries and grass lay a snowshoe hare. She had returned with the dawn, her belly full of fiddleheads and clover, and slept. She awoke with a start, warm, alert, her heart thumping like a birch leaf shimmering in the breeze. Darkness moved in the forest. It flew by like the wind, unseen but felt. She twitched. Positioned in her resting place for escape in the event that a predator came upon her, she sprang out and came to rest in a soft bed of ferns.The Winged Hunter

Fox

The fox will catch you with cunning, and the wolf with courage. ~ Albanian Proverb

Red Fox, by F.T. McKinstryAside from its well-known cleverness and adaptability, the fox is another creature of the shadowy borderlands between known and unknown. A fox has an uncanny ability to blend with its surroundings like a shapeshifter. In the following excerpt, a woman calls upon this skill by changing into a fox herself.

Tree frogs sang to a new moon rising as Oona limped from the underbrush on slender paws, with blood-caked fur and thoughts a fox should not have. She slowed and crouched, panting in the shadows of a snakeroot hedge in sight of the castle. She put her snout to the air, hoping for the scent of Rosemary. But first, she had to find a way over the wall.Wizards, Woods and Gods

Fawn

Twilight, a timid, fawn, went glimmering by, and Night, the dark-blue hunter, followed fast. ~ George William Russell

Fawn, by F.T. McKinstryUnbelievably beautiful, a fawn is the essence of grace and innocence. Hard to pass up the vision of a fawn while in the mind of a man—especially a hunter—as he admires the woman he loves.

The priestess unfolded her legs, stood up and unfastened her dress. It slid over her hips and kissed the floor in a silken rustle. She stood there as an animal strengthened by seasons, fell from hunting, hiding and stealth, and replenished each day by wind, rain and cool sunshine. With the grace of a fawn, she lowered herself into the pool.The Hunter’s Rede

In Part Two, “Creepy and Crawly,” we’ll look at some cold-blooded critters…and one extraordinary bird. Until then, keep an eye on the borders of woods and streams.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Root and Stone
Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

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

Monsters and Gardening

I love monster movies. I’ll watch just about anything if it features an alien, a magical beast, a monster or a supernatural being, creatures that both frighten and attract by virtue of their strange and terrifying natures. I tend to root for them, which can be frustrating because the writers usually kill them off with some heroic bluster bent on saving the world or something. If only my personal demons were so easily vanquished! In a mere two hours, at that.

I see fantasy beings in stories as real in their own right, metaphors for the forces of the psyche, personal or collective. The attraction comes by seeing some part of myself in living color that I thought was safely banished to the hinterlands of my darker side. But it’s never a good idea to banish a shadow. Such a lonely thing. So I write; it’s the ultimate way to lure out the monsters and talk to them.

Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstry

Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron began as a story about gardening. Well, not just any gardening, but wild, magical gardening, the sort of thing a wizard or a priestess would know about. But like all natural things, gardens have a dark side, and this one holds a spooky secret bound up in a young woman’s innocence. Born of wizards and yet sheltered from them, Tansel of Loralin reaches womanhood with little more conscious awareness than a flowering rose. Her instincts know more, however, and when a mysterious old wizard takes her away from her isolated existence to live in his castle and tend his garden, the cracks begin to show.

Sioros, by F.T. McKinstry

Enter the beastie. The locals call him crowharrow; and wizards call him sioros, one of their odd, multidimensional words for things like him. Immortal, utterly beautiful and fell, he is an expression of the Destroyer, the darkest aspect of the primordial Feminine. He does not appreciate mortal sentiments. He cannot be dismissed or bargained with—and Mother help any woman who falls in love with him. He is pure male in its darkest form: the edge of a sword, the devastation of fire, the blood of maidens. His appearance is never random or arbitrary, but has its roots in the shadows cast by gods.

Conveniently, Tansel believes the crowharrow is just a legend. But innocence crafts its own demise. A mortal cannot remain in that state. In the powerful, such as a child of wizards, innocence is perilous. When the crowharrow awakens her, Tansel floats like a butterfly under his thrall, instinctively knowing what he wants from her but not really understanding it. The wizards do. So do the ghosts of her ancestors.

This is not a monster that can be killed. He is more akin to treacherous seas: either you learn his nature through becoming aware of your own, or you die. He exists beyond the mortal will to control. He does not care. The beauty of such forces is that they affect everything they touch at the deepest levels. Drawn in by his power are not only Tansel but also those who would protect her: a powerful wizard with a wound involving the sexual initiation of a maiden; the old, broken wizard who attempts to shelter Tansel from a curse he laid on his own bloodline for want of a woman’s love; and a master shapeshiftress steeped in bitterness over what she cannot change. The crowharrow has his fangs in every pie, stripping off scabs and exposing each character’s ugly secrets to the light of day. Through interacting with him, these mortals are systematically dashed upon the rocks of their lost powers in a spiraling crescendo of lust, heartbreak, desperation and mishap that rocks the roots of the mountains. Only then can the immortal predator return appeased to the Otherworld, leaving renewal and healing in his wake.

Monsters create heroes. What dies is not always the beast, but those things that hold us from our greatest potential. Still, best to keep an eye on the trees….

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 2012. All Rights Reserved.