The Perils of Shapeshifting

Kalein, by F.T. McKinstry

Kalein

Red Fox, by F.T. McKinstryOnce upon a time there lived a wizard named Kalein who mastered the art of shapeshifting. With the grace of an immortal, she could become any creature, plant, tree or element in the forest. By this she reveled in the beauty and complexity of life.

The wise warn that spending too much time in other forms weakens the fibers of one’s humanity. The lore of wizards is rich with such tales; in time, these become folk legends of animals or trees that were once human and forgot themselves. But it is also said that the love of another will keep a shapeshifter on the ground in human feet.

 
 
Crowharrow, by F.T. McKinstryA powerful mage named Caelfar loved Kalein with all this heart. She gave her love to him, but the pull of the wilds was stronger. One day, while picking flowers in a high meadow, she spied a crowharrow, a rare immortal hunter with the flawless body of a male god and the wings of a crow. He gave her no more mind than a cat passing through a garden, and vanished into the Otherworld, taking Kalein’s heart with him.

 
 
Water, by F.T. McKinstryFrom that moment, Kalein forgot the warnings of the wise. She became the wilds, her human nature a mere reed in the rushing river of her life, a dream out of focus. She never saw the beautiful immortal again, as such beings elude the dimensions of mortal perception. One day, Kalein shifted into a sleek, silvery fish with an air of the strange that caught the crowharrow’s eye. He reached through the veil, caught her in his claws, sank his fangs into her tender flesh and ended her longing.

Caelfar, shattered and cursed by having used his powers to win Kalein back from the crowharrow’s thrall, erected a statue of his lover in the center of his magnificent garden, to remember her always. Standing in a pool, she has swirling fins in place of feet.

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.

The Wizard’s Library

A library is a beautiful thing. It is a sanctuary of the mind, silent, looking within itself. Sometimes I figure everything we know must be in a library somewhere. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is always another book to place on the shelf.

A Wizard's Tower, by F.T. McKinstryThe idea of a wizard’s library is ridiculously romantic, conjuring up images of dark wood, labyrinthine passages, an old chair covered with cat hair and tables full of creepy things like crystal spheres, a skull, dried-up roots or a stuffed crow. Books, scrolls and pages fill every space, stacked into the vaults of a stone tower, a keep or a woodland cottage. In these books is all manner of arcane information, much of it long forgotten except to the wise.

Urien of Eyeroth, the protagonist of Water Dark, is a wizard of the Order of Raven, the highest order in the Keepers of the Eye. One must read a great many things to become a Raven. So the story begins, with Urien sitting high in the Keepers’ Archive reading a tome that explores the intricacies of creation. The passage goes like this:

Desire gives formless identity structure in the form of conscious boundaries. These boundaries are subject to the forces of the Old One, who destroys old structures to create anew. ~ The Theory of Structure and Formlessness

Old BooksThere is nothing romantic about this. The heart has a way of disturbing the dust that settles on one’s beliefs. No matter how much a wizard knows, there are always dark places in his mind. All his books conspire against him. Said another way:

The Old One has a dark side that lurks in the hearts of those with power, scattering clear thought, blinding them to wisdom. Artfully, she lays the thorny paths of growth, leading souls into her realms to be stripped of old patterns. Thus, wisdom is ofttimes gained through folly, and light through darkness. ~ On the Nature of Water

After crossing a wicked priestess, Urien trips into an emotional, dangerous river of experiences involving an ex-lover and a beautiful apprentice. But wizards don’t tend to get away with things; they are too close to the source. Throughout the story, passages from books in the Keepers’ Archive whisper in Urien’s mind, reminding him of the things he knows—and doesn’t know yet.

There’s more to being a wizard than just reading books, unfortunately.

In the calm, deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits. ~ The Theory of Structure and Formlessness

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Cover Art for Water DarkWater Dark, a tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful.

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

A Call to Love

Weave a broom, grow a maple; float the child upon the east.
Bloom the woodruff, grow an oak; light the child upon the south.
Drink of violets, grow an apple; bathe the child upon the west.
Reap the barley, grow a cypress; dance the child upon the north.
In the dark, a call to love; in the light, a bridge.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From “The Fifth Verse.” In this story, an ancient immortal entity defies the rules of her kind by falling in love with a mortal warrior, an indiscretion that leaves her grieving, pregnant and dependent on the help of a wizard whose army was responsible for the death of her beloved. “The Fifth Verse” appears in Wizards, Woods and Gods.
 
© 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.

The Trouble with Tansy

Tansel's Garden

Gardens keep secrets…especially old gardens. Orphaned and wary of magic, a young woman knows little of her ancestral garden’s mysteries until she discovers her own power in the darkness of winter, the words of a witch, and the loss of her innocence.

Excerpt

In a huge willow tree, perched the shadowy form of a cat, oddly cloaked and sitting with one leg hanging down. It shifted like rolling water into a mink, a salamander, a frog.

Tansel lowered herself into a clumsy curtsy. “Aunt,” she said carefully, “I need your help.”

“What will you pay for it?”

Tansel hung her head. “I have nothing.” It was true. Nothing but tansy.

“You are still innocent. You must give me that.”

Tansel blinked. What did that mean? She recalled what the crone had told her years ago, about knowing the darkness. But it did not matter now. She nodded quickly.

The watery thing in the willow tree swirled down around the trunk like a snake and coiled on the ground, where it became a hovering shadow. In a voice like wind over a grave, it chanted:

“These things three, your garden needs
“To make the dark and light the same.
“Slis, a frog,
“Gea, the spring and
“Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“The Trouble with Tansy” originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman, V5-1.

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.

“The Trouble with Tansy” was also the original inspiration for The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. 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.

The Chasm

Sunlight glimmered on new leaves
Stirred by a warm, fragrant breeze.
On the pads of a wolf, he moved
Over ferns, mossy stones,
The roots of ancient trees.
He followed the sound of water
And found a chasm.
It yawned before him, echoing with whispers.
He leaned over the edge
And gazed into the starless, endless Void.
“What is the true meaning of darkness?”
He looked up at the sound of his master’s voice.
On the far side of the abyss stood the Dark Warrior,
Creator of Ostarin.
The war god beckoned him to jump.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. A tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry, and love.

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

These Things Three

These things three, your garden needs
To make the dark and light the same.
Slis, a frog,
Gea, the spring and
Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

From The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. A dark fantasy tale of desire, lost innocence, and healing.

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