The Trickster

The Trickster

Birds in the corvid family have always intrigued me, ravens and crows among them. These birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales. Among other things, they are said to move between the worlds, making them harbingers and messengers of the Otherworld. They are playful, clever and at times devious, giving them a reputation as tricksters.

The hooded crow (Corvus cornix) is striking. It is found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called a hoodiecrow, corbie or grey crow, it is ash gray with a black head and throat, wings and tail. It looks like it’s wearing a black cloak with the hood down. How cool is that?

This fine creature has a special place in the story of Outpost, a fantasy novel woven with Norse mythology, mythical beings, swords and sorcery. In this tale, the hoodiecrow is a trickster par excellence, appearing as a particularly curious bird, a dream, a synchronistic event, or a charm given to a warrior by his love. To a knitter with the power of the earth in her hands, the crow takes form as an otherworldly rider.

A warrior on a gray horse thumped over the fresh snow, spruce boughs swaying with silvery restlessness in his wake. His horse moved strangely, as if it had too many legs. The rider wore exquisitely wrought mail of ash gray, black leggings and boots, and a mantle that covered his head and shoulders with feathery black. The hilts of two fine swords glinted above his shoulder. He reined in before the cottage and looked up, revealing the smooth, straight beak of a crow. His eyes glittered like stars.

Melisande stood in the snow in her bare feet, gazing up at the crow warrior like a child. He was beautiful, strange and vast, like a force of nature. He was not Fylking. Not Otherworld, either. He was beyond that.

“Beware.” The sound was the voice of the wind, his voice.

To a wayward seer at odds with the Otherworld, the hooded crow appears to spring him from a trap, a fortuitous event that comes with a very high price.

“Self-pity is powerful magic, is it not?” the crow said. Its pale ash body glowed beneath the pitch mantle of its cloak. “It turns the ridiculous into the sublime.” It cocked its head mockingly.

After delivering an annoying lecture, of course.

As with any trickster, the crow hides its agenda in mystery and surprise. What looks like guidance, mockery, companionship or a warning can—and most likely will—throw one into trouble. But that’s the way it works, with tricksters. Chaos leads to transformation.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Long Winters

Morning in the North Country

All right, it’s a controversial title. Here in northern New England, praising this endless, toothy winter is risking a scenario involving torches and pitchforks. However, I’m going to play the eccentric author card, so hear me out.

I’m an avid gardener and spring in this climate is a special thing. By spring I mean May or even June, as anything before that is either winter or this soppy, icy, muddy, drab phenomenon we call April. Enter the greenhouse. This adds a month or two onto the growing season, allows me to grow things that simply won’t thrive in the ground up here (like peppers, what is it with peppers?) and provides me with hope during the aforementioned month of April.

March Greenhouse

March 7, 2015

Most years, my greenhouse doesn’t look much different than this, come April, and I have to dig a trench in the snow to get to it. But once I tidy things up, plant all my little seeds and rig up the heat lamps it becomes the center of my universe.

I’m writing a new fantasy novel called Outpost (no amusing metaphor intended). I just passed 100,000 words and am rapidly closing in on the last few chapters. It’s all gathering and racing around in my mind to its beautiful, poignant conclusion. No problem staying dedicated to this when — ok, I’ll weigh in now — it only recently got above freezing for the last forty-eight days or something absurd like that, the temperatures in February were fifteen degrees below average and all it does it snow; yes and as a point of interest March tends to be the snowiest month. But I’m shooing off the winter whiners because right now it’s providing me with a great big pillow fortress to hide in while I finish and polish up Outpost so I can send it off to my editor.

Because when my seedlings emerge, the perennials wake up from the cold ground and it gets warm enough for me to sit outside like a pagan sun worshiper? You can do the math.

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Outpost

Introducing Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, a fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

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.

In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking taught human seers to build and ward over an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. Seers are disappearing and their immortal guardians are blind, deceived by their own kind. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock using Fylking magic to gather an army of warriors that cannot die. A King’s ranger who defends the wilds of the realm is snared in a political trap that puts him on the wrong side of the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves.

Forced to find allies in unlikely places, these three mortals are caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, fertile ground for both their personal demons and those of their immortal masters, who cast long shadows indeed. When they uncover the source of the rising darkness, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow—and known to demand a high price for an answered prayer.

Includes a map and a glossary.

“One of the best independently published fantasy novels of the past year.” – Self-Publishing Review

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 350 pages
Edited by Leslie Karen Lutz
Reviews
Map – Included in the book.
Glossary – Text version is included in the book.
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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

SPFBO Finalist

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

The Fylking

Fylking Banner New

The Fylking, a high fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature.

This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

SPFBO Finalist

“McKinstry’s book proves to be one of the best independently published fantasy novels of the past year. Tense, gritty, exciting, and romantic, Outpost is a tale avid fantasy readers won’t want to miss.” – Self-Publishing Review

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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

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Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Fylking OmnibusThe Fylking Omnibus combines Outpost and The Wolf Lords in one volume. Read the whole series and feel the love: howling wolves, the north wind and the chill on your neck when that Otherworld fiend finds you at last.

Includes a full Table of Contents, a Glossary and a link to a high resolution map.

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
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© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Pattern Sense

Dormouse

The heart is a powerful force, more powerful than the earth’s own magic. In this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Excerpt

It all started with a mouse.

Persistent creatures, mice, driven as all things are by the turn of winter’s gaze, but with the added cunning of the nocturnal. In early autumn, they found a crack in the eaves of Melisande’s cottage on the wooded outskirts of Ull. The swordsman had repaired the crack before returning to the towers and yards of Osprey on Sea, the great hall over the snow-draped Thorgrim Mountains, where he served. What a swordsman knew of carpentry, well, that was open to question. But he knew other things. Nice things.

As the moon waxed, the mice kept Melisande up at night, their tiny feet pattering in the rafters, claws scraping, teeth gnawing. How such a small creature could make such a racket eluded her almost as much as her lover’s carpentry skills. The cat, being wise in the ways of the season, knew all, for he did not sleep at night, not when the moon was bright and certainly not when leaves spiraled down to carpet the frosty earth. No, he hunted. But the mice knew that.

It was the eve of the Hunter’s Moon when Melisande first noticed something odd in her latest knitting project, a thick winter tunic for the young goatherd who lived at the bottom of the hill. The wool, deep brown as the smoke-stained rafters of the cottage ceiling, formed gaps where the sleeve joined the yoke, much like the cracks between a wall and a roof. Deep in her mind, the observation awoke a visceral awareness of interconnection, the wisdom of the natural world, a tapestry of patterns, lines, curves and counts as perfectly cast as a well-stitched swatch.

Pattern sense, her mother once called it; at least Melisande thought it might have been her, though it could have been her grandmother, or one of the old women in the village. Come to think of it, her mother had turned a dark eye on such things. Being of a wilder mind, Melisande picked up her needles, hummed softly and wove a neat kitchener stitch over the gaps in the armpit of her work.

She did not hear the mice that night, the night after, or the night after that. Melisande wondered if the cat’s vigilance had finally paid off. Clever hunters, cats. So she told herself as her pattern sense curled quietly as a snake in an ivy patch, to rest with both eyes open.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Originally published in Tales of the Talisman Volume 10, Issue 1.

“Pattern Sense” 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 originally inspired Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. When the gods declare war, the mortals of an ancient realm are plunged into a swords-and-sorcery storm of bloodshed, deception, betrayal and the powers of the earth.

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

The Eye of Odin

Eye of Odin, Cover Art

Three hundred years have passed since half of Earth froze, and the human race has settled other planets under the supervision and control of a military contractor that harnessed the powers of the higher mind. But when the daughter of a warrior clan who made her fortune in the contractor’s service discovers a dark secret beneath their dominion, she must learn to fight like the old gods.

This short story is woven into the Norse myth of Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He is also a shapeshifter and considered fickle, not to be trusted.

No one knows whose side he’s on.

Excerpt

Violet Scott took a deep, uneasy breath as the gray-green orb of Asgard, the home of Odin Systems, appeared in the sentient darkness of space like a gaze. To calm herself, she mentally recited a tale that her grandfather, a professor of ancient Earth religions, had taught her as a child, about a Norse god who had sacrificed an eye to gain the wisdom of ages.

He is warrior, he is poet, he is mad. He is Odin, the Wanderer.

The lavender light behind her eyes turned incandescent white as she entered orbit. A gray shadow crossed it, a raven moving over a twilit cliff face. She brushed it off with a chill on her heart that crept down into her womb like a spider.

The center of the hexagram in her mind shimmered as a clairaudient voice filled the space around her. “Odin Systems Ministry, calling Fenrir One. Identify.”

“Valkyrie Scott,” she responded, carving her thought with a focused knife. “Warden of the Nightshade Outpost. Requesting permission to land.”

She held her mind in a state of receptivity, a controlled opening surrounded by a steely network of supposition. Sprays of stars arced over her ship, a Fenrir fighter, glistening and fell in the emptiness between worlds. The soft, warm interior of the hull surrounded her body like the guts of a wolf that had consumed her.

A long silence caused her to realize she had just unthinkingly given them the title of Valkyrie, which was no longer hers.

“Request authorized,” came the response finally, devoid of emotion. “Report to the Hall of Gladsheim.”

Violet eased back in her seat, spinning complex webs of geometry, the equations of a landing. She closed her eyes as the forces of entry gripped the hull and streamed over her mind in streaks of red, orange and nonlinear questions. A prickle raced up the right side of her spine.

He rules over his great Council of Twelve, in his Hall of Gladsheim.

Gladsheim. Not Valhalla, the hall in the east where the warriors were housed and trained; not Valaskjalf, the hall in the west that coldly ensconced the Systems Controls Tower. Not a good sign.

She focused on the Light with an iron hand. Light fueled her ship; Light from every sun, color and tree; Light, the foundation of the cosmos. She gazed through the center of the star, spiraling in as darkness closed a fist around her.

But she would not look into the Void. Not here, in sight of the Judges.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Short Story, 20 pages
Originally published in Aoife’s Kiss, Issue 35, December 2010

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

The Hooded Crow

The Hooded Crow

There is an especially striking bird in the corvid family known as a Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix). They are found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called Hoodiecrows, Corbies or Grey Crows, they are ash gray with a black head and throat (hence the name), wings and tail. As with all crows and ravens, these birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales.

Heh. Far be it for me not to give homage to such a beautiful, mysterious creature. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, the hooded crow shows up as a harbinger of the gods, leaving our protagonists mystified as to what it’s up to.

In The Riven God, Book Four in the Chronicles of Ealiron, an immortal being with a thirst for vengeance and a sense of humor gains the help of a mortal warrior to open the gates for his feathered, otherworldly devotees, thereby changing the course of a war.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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

The Ubiquitous Corvid

Nightshade in Flight

A raven landed on the rock, released a deep-throated cry then rose into the air and wheeled away, blending with the night. The priestess watched his form against the stars until she could not see him anymore. Then she picked up the knife. ~ From The Riven God

I live in the woods, and my vegetable garden is fenced in to keep the wildlife from eating it. For two years now, some creature has maintained a tunnel to my well-stocked compost pile despite my best efforts to thwart it. I’ve never seen this mysterious sapper; it comes in the night. Amazingly, it doesn’t bother anything in the garden, so I concluded the compost is a good first line of defense. The beastie doesn’t bother to venture beyond it.

Edgar Watching over my garden with the patience of a plastic thing is a big black corvid. A puzzling ornament, he is big enough to be a raven but has the beak of a crow. He stands in a stately pose. I dubbed him Edgar. He doesn’t deter night raiders, blue jays, cabbage moths or mice. But he is good company.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens were given the honor of belonging to both the seen and the unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. This is a natural association given their intelligence, which is formidable. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their ubiquitous presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, heralds of death and bringers of information from the other side.

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstryThe Vikings had great respect for ravens, and a symbiotic relationship with them similar to that of wolves, as the birds led them to prey and shared in the spoils. The Norse god Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom, keeps two ravens named Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) which fly over the land and whisper to him of all they see and hear.

These birds fascinate me to no end and they have found a special place in my work, both visual and literary. I have dedicated an art gallery to them, given their names to high-ranking wizards’ orders and made characters of them in their own right. One such character is a raven called Nightshade, who plays a major role in The Riven God, Book Four in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Nightshade, by F.T. McKinstryNightshade is no ordinary raven, if any raven can be called that. Marked by a single white feather in her tail, she is a messenger kept by wizards for times when their powers of otherworldly communication do not serve. She does this on her own terms, however. Nightshade finds someone lost at sea without the help or instruction of her keepers; she disappears for days at a time on mysterious errands; has been known to hang about with war gods telling them who knows what; and even appears to one startled wizard as a warrior lost to memory.

In the following excerpt, an exiled princess lost at sea meets Nightshade for the first time.

She jumped as the squawking repeated outside. Gasping with pain, she pushed herself up and crept to the gaping crack between the hull and what used to be the cabin hatch. Clouds drifted across a hazy sky. The diluted orb of the sun shone like an eye shrouded by age.

A raven fluttered into view and alit on the broken mast.

“You,” Rhinne rasped. Something like this had awaked her earlier. The bird preened its glossy black feathers. It had one white feather in its tail. What was it doing out here? Rhinne pushed herself through the crack like a timid cat and scanned the horizon in every direction.

No land. Nothing.

The bird took off and flew out of sight. Rhinne had no clear references by which to mark the direction of its flight.

She lowered herself back into the cabin. Trust the water. She abruptly broke into laughter. She slammed her fists down and then shoved her face in her hands, laughing like a wild thing, tugging at her hair and rocking forward, clutching at her salt encrusted clothes. This was absurd. She had just died following the advice of a delusion and now a raven was harassing her. She was nothing but a weak, stupid creature that had been crushed by a bigger, stronger, smarter creature. So it was.

Three days passed.

In the clutches of hunger and thirst, rocking in the cycles of day and night and the swells and movements of the sea, Rhinne decided she was not dead, but living and stranded somewhere in the Sea of Derinth. At night, the gibbous moon told her that over a week had passed since her departure from Tromb. It rained once, giving her a brief respite from thirst. But her throat ached and every part of her body wept with too much noise.

She had seen the raven twice more; once at sunset the first day and again the day after, in the evening. She had not seen it since. Wherever it had come from, it undoubtedly knew she would die and planned to feast on her remains. She thought long and hard on how she might turn the tables, capture and eat it herself.

It had also occurred to her that the bleak creature served Ragnvald or Dore, and was giving them reports as to her whereabouts. Unfortunately, she had no bow or arrows, not even a knife. And a raven would not be easily ensnared.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Hooded crows also play a part in The Riven God. No one sees them coming, not even the one who summons them. But that’s another tale.

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. 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.

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.