The Wardens’ Order

Arcmael

Outpost, Book One in The Fylking.

Arcmael is a seer, an occupation thrust upon him by a royal father pledged to the arts of war. The sword was a preferred occupation for a firstborn heir, but Arcmael had no love for that. So he was stripped of his titles and exiled to a mysterious conservatory high in the northern mountains to learn how to see between the worlds.

Between the Worlds

Once trained, Arcmael became a warden in service to the Fylking, a warrior race who came from the stars nine thousand years ago to use the realm as an outpost from which to fight an ancient war. Immortal and unseen to all except those sensitive to the Otherworld, the Fylking live by the sword. To travel to and from Dyrregin and nearby star systems, the Fylking built the Gate, a portal shining like a sigil on the surface of the world.

By virtue of their stature in the dimensions of living beings, the Fylking had the ability to build the Gate using the natural materials of the world; however, their methods would have been terrifying to humans and created unnecessary complications. Though the Dyrregins were at that time greater in number and sophistication, they would not have understood a tower being built by sound or the higher laws of manifestation, let alone ten of them in specific places over the land. And so the Fylking, having the patience of the immortal, befriended humankind by creating the Wardens’ Order.

The Fylking taught their wardens the arts of interdimensional perception and the properties of light, energy, crystals and architecture. The wardens built the towers, watched over them with human eyes and maintained them over millennia, generations upon generations, gathering the relatively infinite energies of celestial bodies to provide a bridge for their immortal guests. In return the Fylking protected them, and gave them the honor of representing them to humankind. ~ From “The Arrival of the Fylking,” Outpost

For Arcmael, it is cruel irony to have only immortal warlords as guardians and companions–until sorcery and war engulf the land.

The Gate

Spanning the realm over 213 leagues, the Gate is built into a pentacle with a stone tower on each point and intersection. The towers gather light from the sun, moon and stars and focus it into a complex pattern of crystal arrays, providing an energy source. Starting from the northernmost point and going clockwise, the towers are called: Sif, Sol, Sin, Soc, Sae, Som, Sef, Sos, Sie, and Sor. In Fylking, these names refer to the patterns of openings in the tower walls, which are positioned to align with the cosmos.

Tower SefEach gatetower is manned by five elite Fylking warriors who watch over the realm and protect their interests there. Millennia after the Gate was built by the original wardens under the direction of the Fylking, the sea engulfed the granite shoals around one of the outer points, Tower Sef, isolating it from land. War took Tower Sie, a second outer point which stands in the realm of Fjorgin across the Njorth Sea.

Tower Sif stands on the northernmost point of the Gate in the Vale of Ason Tae. Called the Apex, Tower Sif is where the Gate merges with an array of other worlds on which the Fylking conduct their bloody business. As such, the Apex is the first line of defense, and as any warden will tell you, the High Fylking of Tower Sif are a nasty bunch with scant tolerance for mortal concerns.

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.

Puss in Books

Puss in Boots

Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots) ~ Gustave Doré

“When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.’ ~ Mark Twain

Hello, my name is Faith and I’m one dead mouse away from being a crazy cat lady.

It’s been said that cats lend themselves particularly well to writers. There’s something comforting about the presence of a cat, a divine connoisseur of languor and solitude. Cats are a soft touch in the void.

And writers of fantasy? Now we’re talking Muse. Cats are mysterious and reputed to prowl the boundaries of the Otherworld. Here cats can talk, do magical things or act as gods. They serve witches, wizards, even warriors. They provide beautiful metaphors for grace and implacability—just watch a cat stalk and kill some hapless creature. Exemplary.

Stalking Hemlock

Hemlock

As I can no more pass up this tempting morsel than a cat could ignore a little bird hopping on the windowsill, following are some cats that appear in my books and stories….

Sele is kept by the sailors of a merchant vessel called The Slippery Elm. They consider her good luck at sea. When a brooding assassin named Lorth secures passage, the sailors are counting on Sele to protect them. But cats have their own agendas. She forms a bond with Lorth, who likes animals, and keeps him company over his journey.

Radu

Radu

Scrat is inspired by a cat I once had named Radu. In classic style, Scrat belongs to a wizard. He does not employ her as a familiar or an Otherworld guide, but as a mouser and a friend. Scrat is later adopted by Lorth and comforts the assassin as no human can.

Mushroom rules the garden of a young woman named Tansel, who lives alone in the mountain forest of Loralin. When she and the cat are taken in by a powerful old wizard with some dark secrets, Mushroom has his work cut out for him. While prowling after a female in heat, Mushroom attracts the attention of a winged immortal predator set on Tansel’s heart. The cat flees like a ghost when things get ugly, of course.

Oona

Oona

Rosemary does more than catch mice, cause trouble or warm a wizard’s lap. She can sing to the stars, draw down the light and heal things. She can make caterpillars drop from a plant, knit the leg of a lame horse or bring a warrior from the brink of death. In one story, she helps a witch reclaim her humanity.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Sele and Scrat appear in The Hunter’s Rede, a story of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

Mushroom appears in The Winged Hunter, a story of the perils of innocence, an immortal hunter’s curse and the long shadows of powerful wizards.

Rosemary appears in “Eating Crow,” a short story in the collection Wizard, Woods and Gods.

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

The Warlock’s Spell

The Warlock's Spell, by F.T. McKinstry
Stars shine in the dark as the moon looks away.
Away, disinterested.
A sword will cut the fair
And call it love.
Love, forsaken.
Come to my hand as a shell washed upon the sand.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Riven God, Book Four in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

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

Tansel of Loralin

Tansel of Loralin, by F.T. McKinstry

It is often said that characters in a story have a life of their own. This phenomenon can be startling to writers, myself included. Tansel first came to me in a fairy tale about a maiden whose love for her garden and a bad attitude towards wizards lead her to a remarkable discovery of her hidden power. But Tansel had more to say when her little story grew into an entire novel involving the forces of the Otherworld, two of the most powerful wizards in the land and a nasty family secret.

In the following excerpt, we are introduced to Tansel and the seeds of a shadow.

Excerpt

Some things did not stay well in gardens.

Tansel knew this, being a gardener like her mother, and her mother before her. She lived deep in the verdant, shadowy hills of Loralin Forest, in a one-room cottage made of river stones. Old clay pots of herbs and flowers crowded small windows with diamond-shaped panes. She owned one small table cluttered with plant stalks, dirt, pots and jars, a mortar and pestle, a knife with a stag-horn handle and a chair with an unraveling reed mat to sit on. She slept on a pallet by the hearth. Dominating the room, a rambling pantry held seeds, dried leaves, twigs, roots and bark in baskets, old cloth bags, stone and glass phials, jars, and wooden boxes. With these Tansel made a modest living.

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees, and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high, bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath evergreen trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things she simply liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said exactly what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even she knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself.

Her mother had once told her, Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined. The cottage, the garden and that mysterious piece of information were the only things she had left her young daughter of twelve summers before running away into the lands beyond Loralin like a cucumber vine on a compost heap.

Seven years later, Tansel knew what stayed in her garden and not.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Tansel appears in “The Trouble with Tansy,” a short story in Wizards, Woods and Gods; and in The Winged Hunter, an epic fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing. Tansel is also featured in Monsters and Gardening.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Fifth Verse

Shade Falls

Born of stars and witness to the rise and fall of civilizations, an immortal entity takes for granted the vastness of her knowledge—until she falls in love with an ordinary mortal warrior. But the price she pays for this indiscretion involves knowledge of something much greater and more powerful than war, wizards or even the gods themselves.

Excerpt

The wizard lived north in the foothills of the Spectral Mountains, in the ancient castle of Altaeros. A god of that name had built it; he lived in the sinews of the castle through a towering opal spire that focused his mind in the world. But the Shade cared nothing for that. As a terrible storm, she raced over the sky wailing in a legion of shadows, a maiden’s grief, a mother’s wrath. She struck the towering moss-cloaked stones of Altaeros, shattering panes of crystals and glass, uprooting generations of herbs and flowers and shaking the earth beneath the foundation stones. She rained and split the sky with thunder, she howled like wolves and screamed like owls, and blew the trees and brush into tangled, cracking hands until at last, when she had become too heavy and empty to rage anymore, she fell.

The castle shuddered when she hit the floor.

Time slowed, spun around for a moment, and stopped. An overcast sky gazed down dispassionately as the immortal rolled over in her woman’s form, pale as a broken shell.

“Are you finished?” said a voice above her.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Fifth Verse” originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman, V5-4.

This story 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.

Marked

The Hunter's Lair

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.

Excerpt

The constellation of Sioros, the Winged Hunter, sparkled on the twilit sky to the north. The towering cluster gazed down from a large star called the Hunter’s Eye, which shone with steady, soothing light that Lorelei felt before she opened her eyes with a violent shudder. A fisherman’s wife from Othurin, she had a simple mind. But in the light of the Hunter’s Eye, her mind became a tapestry, silvery and glinting in divine patterns of arcs, lines and colors from which her thoughts fell most strangely.

She knew the name of the star, for one thing. Alberon. Yes, that was his name.

This elusive memory brought up another, crushingly accessible one. A mother’s grief drew her up from the dead-cold ground. “My baby,” she gasped, rustling in the breeze between day and night as a raging river flooding over a millwheel, splintering it. She staggered across the bloody path before the cottage, its hearth cold and windows dark.

Away in the distance, a woman screamed.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Marked” 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.

This story tales place in the world of Ealiron, and contains a cameo appearance of Lorth of Ostarin, the protagonist of The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

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

Earth Awakening

Trout Lily, by F.T. McKinstry

Trout Lily

Spring flows through the cold
Softening, awakening
Tangled branches twine
Like nests
Reaching for the sun
Rivers break their icy bounds
And bathe the land in fluid song
Beech leaves rattle amid
Heavens of buds
Gazing down like stars upon the earth
Dark, damp and fragrant
Mayflowers rise through sodden leaves
Ferns spiral forth
And woodland lilies grace the dark with light

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. 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.

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.