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.