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 Om Tree

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

Excerpt

In the beginning stood a tree.

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

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

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

“The Om Tree” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

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

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

Nature as Muse: Root and Stone

Natural landscapes are an integral part of any good tale, a multidimensional backdrop that gives life to the imagination. Like music, natural settings fall in patterns, creating moods, thoughts, and impressions by virtue of what they are.

Inspired by mountains, forests and all things that grow, the world of Ealiron is richly illustrated with root and leaf, both literally and through ancient traditions of magic honoring the correspondences between plants, trees, animals, color, and sound. Here we will journey through old forests, wise trees, enchanted gardens, fragile flowers, and mountains.

Forests

It was the forest’s fault. Those two handsome woodcutters. An evil place, the forest, everyone knew it, full of temptations and imps… ~ Tanith Lee

Hobbit Woods, by F.T. McKinstryForests get a bad rap in fairy tales. When they are portrayed at their most beautiful, that is when we’d best beware. While a deep, dark wood is an excellent metaphor for the shadowy realms of the mind, there is no denying that forests have a soul. The presence of trees creates a feeling of awe and stimulates the imagination.

The following excerpt describes an ancient forest called Eusiron’s Haunt, so called because a god of that name is consciously aware as the soul of the wood. Some say he protects the palace above. Others say it amuses him. To a wizard named Lorth, the Haunt is particularly uncanny.

In this forest, he could have seen a ghost, a wolf or a dragon. He could have seen something as fearsome as a sioros, an immortal man-shaped predator with tall black wings, fangs and no tolerance whatsoever for anything intruding on its territory. He had heard stories of things like that. Efar had told him that whatever one saw here depended on who that person was and with what purpose. Had his intentions been different—hostile, for example—the forest might have changed not only in appearance, but also in what lived here. It would not change in a linear sense, as if monsters or armies suddenly flooded from the trees. Time-space itself would change. From one moment to the next, a forest slightly unnerving would become, from the beginning of time, a forest patrolled by sioros, dragons and Maern knew what else. The ancient oak tree that moved from one side of the path to the other would become a monster with its own history, intentions and no one to stop it, as most likely no palace would tower above the tops of the trees, with an army inside to come to the rescue. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Trees

“Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispered, as he lifted her to the ground. “What nice dreams they must have!” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The Om Tree, by F.T. McKinstryThere are forests, and then there are trees. After all, you can miss one for the other. Every kind of tree has its own personality: the texture of its bark, how it roots, the shape of its leaves, or the sound wind makes when it blows through the boughs. The spirits of trees are traditionally associated with qualities such as elemental forces, seasons, colors and life cycles. In Ealiron, different trees correspond with the twelve orders of the Keepers of the Eye, wizards and craftspeople who maintain balance in the world’s energies.

There exists a very rare tree in Ealiron called an Om tree. Its seeds are planted by gods, and it lives for many centuries. An Om tree grows in the palace of Eusiron, and is greatly loved by the Mistress of the realm.

The Mistress approached the tree and placed her hands upon it. “Hai love,” she said softly. A bough rustled, lowered down and brushed against the small of her back like a caress. Lorth had once heard about this, though he had disregarded it as a tale warriors tell over fire and drink in the wee hours. They called it the Om tree. Seeded by the stars, the tree rooted deeply into the iomor beneath the palace. It was said the tree knew things, could tell truth from lies, and saw through its bark and limbs to the very heart of the Old One herself. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

Gardens

Gardens are not made by singing “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade. ~ Rudyard Kipling, Complete Verse

The Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstryA garden is a lively place. Plants reach into the soil and up to the sun with chaotic abandon, and yet there is balance; things emerge only in their time, and when the shadows of summer grow long, the garden bows out gracefully. I find joy in participating in this. For my part, I arrange things in nice patterns and keep order while at the same time nurturing the chaos.

Tansel of Loralin is born of three generations of wisewomen. Gardening is in her blood…but she has yet to learn the most profound secret her garden is keeping.

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. ~ The Winged Hunter

Flowers

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy? ~ Oscar Wilde

Echinacea, by F.T. McKinstryFlowers are spectacular creations. Brilliant, intense, fragile, and fleeting, flowers capture the essence of sensitive and yet enduring things. When a flower blooms, we know something important is happening.

In this excerpt, an immortal being is having a crisis for which simple things in nature, including flowers, offer some perspective.

The swamp kept singing, falling in harmony to her tears. Life abounded here; it could not grow fast enough. Snakes curled in the trees, muskrats ambled through the cattails to loam hollows, colorful birds fluttered about and bugs crept over rotting logs. A red hind drank from a pool. Rain tapped softly on emerald leaves and touched the flowers, causing them to bob around as if laughing. ~ “The Fifth Verse,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Mountains

The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change. ~ Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

Mountains, by F.T. McKinstryAn interesting thing about mountains is how they vary in character from one range to the next. There are old mountains, worn down by time and dark in their knowing; young, spectacular mountains crowned by unmelting snow; lush green jungle mountains; and rugged, arid ones. The creatures that live in the mountains know them.

For those living in the valleys, the surrounding mountains exude mystery, as in this excerpt:

The hermit spoke of a temple in the north, at the base of Math’s Eye, the mountain range that protected the realm. He said the War God slept there, beneath five points, five lines and a raven’s eye. So said the old tales. So said the mad. No one else spoke of such things. ~ “The War God Sleeps,” Wizards, Woods and Gods

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

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

The Solar Breath

Frost Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

I have always loved the idea of naming the full moons. Traditionally, these names reflect nature through the seasons, and vary with history and culture; for example, between English Medieval, Norse, Celtic or Native American. This beautiful lore gives rise to visual and emotional impressions, the province of the moon itself.

While working on The Chronicles of Ealiron, I wrote and illustrated a series of verses to capture the essence of each cycle using tree, plant and animal lore. This is called solaeson, which in the wizards’ tongue means “the solar breath.” Some day these verses will find a home in the series.

In celebration of the Celtic New Year, I’ve begun with November.

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