Today I am pleased to welcome a colleague from the Magic Appreciation Tour, Ms. Karin Rita Gastreich. She’s got a post for us that, I must say is dear to my heart: Shape shifters. Read on and enjoy!
Shape Shifting in Eolyn
By Karin Rita Gastreich
One of my favorite books growing up was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.
Years later — [ahem] okay, decades later — there are still scenes and passages from this book that remain vivid in my memory.
I especially liked Merlin’s tutorship of Wart (young Arthur); the way Merlin turned him into different animals such as a fish, an ant, and a hawk.
I mean, how cool is that? As a child, I would have given anything to have a teacher like Merlin at my grade school.
When writing my own novel, I wanted Eolyn and Akmael to have a touch of Merlin’s school of magic. The witch Ghemena and the wizard Tzeremond both include shape shifting as part of their instruction, and once Eolyn and Akmael have mastered High Magic, they learn shape shift on their own.
Shape shifting, by the way, is not without risk in Eolyn’s world. A person who is not properly prepared can get lost in the animal form, and might never become human again. This limitation is not much of a problem in my first novel Eolyn¸ but it becomes very important for the companion novel High Maga.
In theory, a maga trained in High Magic can shape shift into any animal (or plant) with which she has had extensive contact. This gives Eolyn a wide range of options, because she grows up in the South Woods and interacts with all its creatures on a daily basis.
Even so, magas (and mages) tend to favor certain forms over others. Both Akmael and Eolyn prefer Wolf and Owl. This becomes an important expression of the affinity between them, even as they confront each other as enemies on opposite sides of a violent conflict.
I have a special love for wolves, though I have never had the privilege of seeing them in the wild. There are few animals that embody as well as Wolf the image of fierce independence coupled with the deep need for meaningful companionship – Eolyn and Akmael, through and through.
Owl, of course, is a creature of the night. Day creatures like us are crippled by darkness, but Owl is at home. When I do night walks with students in the woods, I always include a moment when we turn off our headlamps. The darkness is astounding — a deep inky black that is hard to comprehend for those who live in urban environments. It makes you especially appreciative of what it means to be nocturnal.
If I could change into any animal — just for a little while, because in truth I very much like being human — I would be a mountain lion, or a puma. I’ve always been partial to the strength and ferocity of the wild cats, and the powerful sensuality that accompanies their every movement. The puma is a New World animal, so it doesn’t appear in Eolyn, but one of its cousins, Lynx, lives in the South Woods. Lynx is Eolyn’s guardian and friend.
How about you? If you could shapeshift into any animal, what would it be?
Sole heiress to a forbidden craft, Eolyn lives in a world where women of her kind are tortured and burned. When she meets Akmael, destined to assume the throne of this violent realm, she embarks upon a path of adventure, friendship, betrayal and war. Bound by magic, torn apart by destiny, Eolyn and the Mage King confront each other in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of a millennial tradition of magic.
“Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes will satisfy fans of traditional epic fantasy with a romantic thread.” – Publishers Weekly
Excerpt from Eolyn, Chapter 2
By Karin Rita Gastreich
By the time Eolyn arrived at a large stony riverbed, she had lost track of the moon’s passage. In a few months spring would fill the river’s banks to overflowing, but now with autumn drying up into winter she crossed the water without wetting her feet, by jumping from one stone to another. She paused on the opposite bank and considered following the current downstream. Before she could decide on her next step, Eolyn saw another Guende.
The creature stood but a few feet away, reflecting the hues of day and fall. It wore colored leaves in its cap and an evergreen vest embroidered with seeds and nuts. With smiling eyes peeking out from under bushy brows, it proffered its hand. Eolyn was surprised by the feathery lightness of its touch, as if it were not a real hand at all, but an impulse of energy that took hold of her and pulled her forward.
They left the river and walked for almost an hour, until Eolyn felt a subtle shift in the resonance of the forest. The woods did not look any different, with its old trunks, crusty bark and draped moss. Yet something had changed. Caught between curiosity and apprehension, Eolyn’s heart beat so hard it pushed into her throat. The Guende tugged on her hand in reassurance. An intense drone filled her ears, as if she were passing through an invisible hive of bees. After a few steps the buzzing stopped, the Guende disappeared and Eolyn stood alone in a small clearing. The thick expanse of trees that defined her world moments before had melted away. Under a cover of soft grass, the ground sloped downward and then rose again. Beyond a low hill hovered a faint wisp of chimney smoke. Taken with a sudden enthusiasm founded on the hope of human company, Eolyn bounded forward. On the other side of the rise she saw a simple cottage surrounded by a thick garden.
“Good day!” she called out. “Is anyone home?”
The bushes rustled. A dark hood rose up and peered at her. “Well. Who is this mouse that calls upon my humble house?”
The hag’s voice crackled and hissed like a night fire. Eolyn stepped backwards, regretting her boldness at once. How could she have been so foolish? She knew the stories about hags living in the woods. They were witches, all of them. They turned children into bread and ate them for breakfast.
Rising to her full and somewhat crooked height, the hag shuffled toward Eolyn. “Don’t run away, my child.”
Eolyn had no intention of obeying, but her feet betrayed her and rooted into the ground like stubborn weeds. Locating a stump next to the girl, the old woman eased herself down. Several minutes passed in silence.
“You are not much of a talker,” she said at last. “All the better I suppose. I’ve grown accustomed to an existence without chatter in this place. How long have you been in the woods?”
“Nearly a moon, I think.” Eolyn’s voice was subdued with dread.
“A full moon?” the old one repeated with surprise and interest. “How did you survive so long on your own?”
“I know the late harvest berries and mushrooms and how to find springs and draw water from the moss. Then the Guendes found me.” And led her here. Treacherous creatures!
“I see. And what drove you into the forest in the first place?”
Eolyn blinked and looked away. Her eyes began to burn and her throat ached.
“Come, child.” The woman’s voice was quiet and gentle. “You can tell me.”
Eolyn was not going to tell her anything, but then words came spilling out anyway. “There were horses and soldiers and terrible fires and . . . they killed my father, and my brother never came back . . . and then I . . . heard my mother. I saw her, I swear! She told me to follow her, but it wasn’t her after all . . . and then I got lost.”
The hag folded her arms. “You’re a very courageous girl. How many summer solstices have you seen?”
Eolyn shifted nervously on her feet.
“Nine, perhaps?” The old woman asked.
The blood drained from Eolyn’s face. Proof of witchcraft! How else could she have guessed her age?
“Speak, child. A guest in my house must say what she thinks.”
“Are you the witch who eats children?” Eolyn covered her mouth with both hands, shocked by her reckless tongue.
The old lady’s eyes sparked in the shadow of her cloak and she reached up to remove her hood. Eolyn expected to see an ancient face twisted into a sharp warty nose, unkempt hair splayed like straw and inflamed eyes that would hex her on the spot. The truth proved oddly disappointing. The woman’s features were soft, lined with the many years that had bent her body. Her thick gray hair lay braided in a neat coil at the nape of her neck. Her nose was an unremarkable peak over narrow lips. She watched Eolyn with keen gray eyes. “Well that is not a question I get every day. Tell me . . . What did you say your name was?”
“Nice to meet you, Eolyn. I am Ghemena. Tell me, why do you think I am a witch who eats children?”
“Because you are an old woman, and you live alone in the South Woods.”
“That is rather damning evidence,” she conceded. “What else do you know about this child-eating witch?”
“She lives in a house made of sweetbread and the children come to eat it. That’s how she fattens them up before she throws them into her great oven.”
“I see. . .” The woman nodded, her face a mask of careful reflection. “Well, young Eolyn, you can see my house. It does indeed bear the shade of honey-sweetened bread, now that I think about it. Why don’t you take a bite? If the legend is true you’ll be able to eat it. Even better, I’ll be able to eat you. But I will let you run first. I’ll give you a full half-a-day’s head start just for being such an astute little girl.”
KARIN RITA GASTREICH was born near Kansas City, Missouri. After living and working as a tropical ecologist in Costa Rica, she recently returned to her home town and is now a Professor of Biology at Avila University. Her past times include camping, hiking, music and flamenco dance. Karin’s first fantasy novel, EOLYN, was released by Hadley Rille Books in 2011, and was nominated for the 2012 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. The companion novel, HIGH MAGA, is scheduled for release in 2014. Karin’s short stories have appeared in Zahir, Adventures for the Average Woman, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and A Visitor to Sandahl. She is a recipient of the Spring 2011 Andrews Forest Writer’s Residency. Visit her site at https://krgastreich.com/.
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Thanks for being with us, Karin. Good luck to you with Eolyn and all you do!