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 a remote northern archipelago called the Gray Isles, old magic is rooted deep, hidden from the sweeping gaze of the Eye, powerful wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. When the Masters of the Eye discover an island witch working spells of a twisted and malevolent kind, they send an assassin named Eadred, deadly, a bit fey, with a deep reverence for the Old One, a primordial goddess of creation. But the roots of old magic are entwined in the hands of the goddess herself. And when Eadred’s mark curses him, his mind breaks, his reverence turns to dread and he becomes obsessed with the sea.

For Eadred has learned a secret involving an orphaned fisherman’s son named Hemlock. When their paths collide, a prophecy 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 One, he is sent by his masters to question Eadred after he is 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, legends, loss, and the hearsay of island politics.

In his quest to lift the 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, but something powerful enough to destroy the realm with a thought. 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, 292 pages
Third Edition
Edited by E.G. Stone
Can be read as a standalone story.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.
Glossary
Map of Ealiron: Sourcesee and East
Map of Ealiron: The Gray Isles

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“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.” – Amazon Customer Review

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

The Source

The Source, by F.T. McKinstry

Greetings on this Winter Solstice!

The shortest day of the year captivates the imagination and connects us to a universal truth that’s often easy to forget in the throes of life. A seed in the earth about to germinate, a flash of inspiration in the depths of despair, light emerges from the Void.

The winter solstice brings living things to an instinctual awareness of the Source. The moment the shift happens there is a spark, a sigh, a ray of hope. The days will now begin to lengthen. Little wonder this is a time of celebration. No matter how dark it gets, the light always comes, usually when the darkness is complete.

The Hunter is Gone

Being creative and somewhat broody — ok that’s an understatement, how about Underworldish — I’m a seasoned veteran in the Dark Night of the Soul. As many times as I’ve stood before the abyss, each time is always the very first time, as if I’ve never done it before. It never ceases to amaze me, the Void’s powers of resilience and renewal. “But this time is different,” I say. “No light can come out of this.” Hel knows it’s no different. It’s always the same. Light comes from the darkness.

This finds its way into my art: novels, stories, poetry, paintings, gardening, music, aquariums — it’s everywhere. I stare into the abyss every time I type a word, hold a brush to a canvas or put a seed into the dirt. I listen to death metal looking for a glint of the sublime. I fret over my seedlings in the greenhouse one moment and mercilessly pull weeds from the ground the next. I stand in awe each 21st of December, like a votary of the Dark Night, waiting for the light I know will come. The sun is reliable, after all.

“Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.” – From The Hunter’s Rede

“Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.” – From The Winged Hunter

“In the dark, a call to love; in the light, a bridge.” – From “The Fifth Verse“, Wizards, Woods and Gods

“Where the heart yearns, there is the point of Mystery. Though the Old One holds in her arms the seeds of new awareness, healing and light, she cannot be seen or understood by the seed itself.” – From Raven of the West

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

The Summer Solstice

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

Rose Moon is a traditional name given to a full moon in Midsummer.

The son of the King of the Moy in Midsummer
Found a girl in the greenwood;
She gave him black fruit from thornbushes.
She gave him an armful of strawberries on rushes…

— From Myles Dillon, Early Irish Literature

Rosa Rugosa

Rosa rugosa

In ancient times the sun played a divine role, being the source of life and the origin of the festivals that mark the quadrants of the year. On the summer solstice the sun is at its peak before its descent into darkness. In the north where I live, the longest day has a visceral quality. The mountains and valleys are lush and teeming with life that seems to sigh as the day turns, bringing a sense of completion. Before long the afternoon shadows will lengthen, the leaves will fly and the nights will grow cold as the sun withdraws for another winter.

I keep part of the sun in my heart on this day so that in winter, when it’s twenty-five below zero and the sun feels like it’s in another dimension (when it shines at all), I have hope.

The power of the seasons fascinates me and finds its way into my stories. The warmth and power of Midsummer has a special place in The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. This story revolves around a wizard’s hall called Muin in the heart Loralin Forest. The Hall of Muin is a Sun Key, or solsaefil in the wizard’s tongue. The design of the hall, including its layout and the placement of crystals in odd locations, uses the Waeltower, a tall, faceted garnet tower that focuses earth energy, to direct the light of the sun into geometric patterns that illuminate physical locations. The Sun Key marks seasonal events such as solstices and equinoxes.

On one particular Midsummer night, the summer solstice aligns with the Rose Moon and this opens a portal to the Old One, a primordial goddess of nature, life, death, and transformation. By the power of the Sun Key, a gate is projected into the woods on the south side of the hall. It is said that what happens there depends on the heart of the perceiver. Midsummer corresponds to the maternal aspect of the Old One, she who nurtures, grows, gives birth. Gardens bloom and flourish. In this story everyone has something to hide and something to heal, and the Rose Moon illuminates the landscape to powerful, transformative and devastating ends.

For more information about this and other wizardly things, check out Chronicles of Ealiron, Terms and Places.

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.

Kali the Ribbon Snake

I once kept a ribbon snake named Kali. She ate live goldfish. She would hover over the water bowl for some time as the fish swam around in there and then she would dive in a flurry of writhing, splashing and mayhem. And that would be the end of that.

Baby SnakeI didn’t know Kali was female when I got her. The name just fit. But now I can confidently refer to her as “she” and not fall back on having named her after a romantic assumption. One morning, I came out to say hello and noticed a little head peeking out of the shadows of the greenery. Kali had given birth to seven babies. Once this might have been considered an auspicious omen. In any case, I was impressed.

Snakes are beautiful and fascinating. In traditional animal lore, the snake is a symbol of transformation and rebirth. They live underground, in dark places, and as they grow they shed their skins and are renewed. It’s like an initiation rite. During this time their eyes cloud over and they get aggressive, as they feel vulnerable in the in-between state. Now and then I’ll find a snakeskin in a woodpile or a stone wall. I like to keep them as a reminder that dark or restricting times herald the forces of change and that the sun is still shining up there somewhere.

Photography Prints

© 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.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

In the world of Ealiron, gods walk among mortals, though they are rarely seen and do not tend to concern themselves with mortal affairs beyond knowing themselves through their creations. One exception is Eaglin, the mortal son of Ealiron himself, a god who made love to Eaglin’s mother as a dream. Trained from birth by both gods and wizards in the arts of magic, war, and the old powers, Eaglin belongs to the Order of Raven, the highest order of wizards in the land. He also serves as a high priest to the Old One, the divine feminine force of cycles, birth and death.

Although Eaglin lives among mortals and knows the seasoned wisdom of animals, forests, stars and lovers, he is a solitary creature whose heart belongs to no one. By his stature, he bears the temperament of the sea: vast, powerful and unpredictable.

Eaglin is a master of shapeshifting. In the following excerpt from The Winged Hunter, he has been asked to track down a witch named Aradia, who has been hiding in animal forms for years to elude an immortal predator bent on destroying her. Finding her is one thing; returning her to human shape, another.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Excerpt

Eaglin lowered his head and stepped back, pulling his airy cloak around his body like a wing. He knelt and spoke a word in Aenspeak to invoke the spirit of a mountain cat. A swift, agile hunter, the cat knew the paths to the Otherworld. His mind flowed into the boundaries of the hall, held in Caelfar’s spell. A wild rush of impressions spread before him, a torrent of sadness, color and song, each person, creature, tree and plant alive and suspended in a sea of light. He studied the glimmering patterns until his mind stilled on an anomaly, a pattern of one thing beneath another in an unnatural combination of energies.

He changed. His consciousness erupted into a fluid expanse of sight, scent and sound. In a single bound, he leapt to the top of the courtyard wall, padded on supple paws over the top to the far eastern side and dropped without a sound. Then he trotted towards the skittered pattern of Aradia’s altered form. A short time later, he slipped into an empty corridor outside of the antechamber of the Waeltower, his thick haunches flowing.

A rat scuttled along the edge of the passage. When it saw him, it stopped with a squeak–and disappeared.

Eaglin did not focus on Aradia’s form but on the pattern of something shapeshifted. He did not need words and he did not need to follow her through a succession of changes; he only needed to catch her once. He entered a circular courtyard open to the sky and ringed with elm trees. With a graceful thrust of feline power, he leapt into the air with a twist and caught a bluebird in his claws. It screeched and vanished. Eaglin landed on his feet as a man, cloaked and hooded. In cupped, closed hands, he held a hornet. He clenched his jaw as it stung him.

Moridrun fore sarumn,” he said in Aenspeak, as if to wish the morning well, and then he threw open his hands and stepped back. Aradia tumbled to the floor.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Eaglin appears in The Hunter’s Rede, in which he encounters a roguish assassin (Lorth of Ostarin) and a cruel warlord who drives his homeland into war.

In The Winged Hunter, Eaglin faces his shadow in the form of a diabolical immortal being that he is called upon to banish.

In The Riven God, Eaglin joins an exiled princess, a war god and the wizards of Ealiron in a war against a devious entity threatening to plunge the world into desolation.

In Raven of the West, he is caught in a love triangle that causes him to question his destiny as the child of a god.
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Winged Mojo

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry
I admit it, I love winter. In the northwoods of New England where I live, I get plenty of it. However, by the time spring comes—months after most everyone else is celebrating the season—the romance is gone and I’d do anything for a warm sunny day and something green. I settle for my houseplants. I tinker with and fret over cuttings I rooted the summer before and kept alive all winter. Precious things.

The woods feed my heart in every season. Nature doesn’t whine. It accepts, it breathes, it moves on. Change and transformation are inherent. Nature heals itself. Nowhere is this power more inspiring than in the ubiquitous chickadee. These little birds fear nothing; no bitter cold, howling winds, ice storms in April, not even my prowling cats daunt them.

Chickadees have mojo.

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

Eating Crow

Sioros

It is never a good idea to anger a wizard. One witch causes enough strife to provoke a powerful mage to summon an immortal hunter after her. But when she plumbs the utter reaches of her skills as a shapeshifter to elude the hunter, she discovers the value of her own humanity.

Excerpt

Shapeshifting was Oona’s life, a fluid existence she preferred to humanity. As a human, she would have avoided anything to do with the Master of Straif. A wizard of the deep flowing waters, the hollows of the earth and the implacable forces of blood and transformation, he had one black boot in the shadows.

And he loved his crow.

Oona, on the other hand, found the raucous creature too tempting. Tawny, lithe and driven by the lust of spring, she slipped around the eastern wall of the castle and climbed the spiky old hawthorn tree that grew there.

Most humans knew better than to cross a wizard. A cat did not care.

She landed with a soft thump in a bed of periwinkle. The crow called to the dawn. Nice of him to give her something to head for, though she would have smelled him easily enough without the noise. She crept on her belly through the shadows of lupine spires, tulips and daffodils until she spotted the bird on his perch above the crabapple tree. Fluid as sound, she changed.

She landed with a graceful flutter in the tree, a beautiful female crow with glistening black wings and a song for the male on his perch. He knew enough to be wary of her instant appearance in his domain, but curiosity distracted him. In that instant of miscalculation, Oona drew close and returned to her wildcat shape to finish her wicked deed. It ended quickly.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Eating Crow” 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 inspired one of the scenes in The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

© 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.

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.