The Unicorn Is Attacked

The third tapestry in The Hunt of the Unicorn cycle depicts the murderous attack initiated by the royal huntsmen upon the unicorn when they bring him to bay in the forest.

I found it interesting that five of the six spears wielded have the metal crosspiece of a boar spear. That crosspiece is present because wild boar were incredibly dangerous beasts. Even with a spearhead jammed down their throats and lodged there, they were known to slam themselves up the spear with sufficient ferocity that the spearsman might die of their attack. The metal crosspiece impeded such a charge.

Evidently the ferocity of a unicorn was deemed equal to that of a wild boar!

As I wrote my own version of The Hunt of the Unicorn, I found the story told by the tapestries of that name becoming a central element in my narrative.

The unicorn of the tapestries is sought in the woods, located by the royal huntsmen, pursued, and challenged with spears. Mine is also.

But while the characters of the tapestries are archetypal, representing our collective human experience of Maiden, Fabulous Beast, and Nobleman, mine are specific individuals with their own quirks, personalities, and names.

Nor do the events of my story dovetail exactly with those depicted in the tapestries.

Yes, my huntsmen go into the forest to find the unicorn, but their reason for doing so is all their own. And when they find the beast . . . well, let’s just say that a spiritual battle takes place alongside the physical one.

Despite these differences and others, I drew heavily on the tapestries for my world building.

I had taken the hounds in the tapestries to be deerhounds, but those boar spears gave me pause, as did the unicorn’s reputation for fighting prowess. I eventually decided that Irish wolfhounds would be required!

As I read about Irish wolfhounds, I learned that their origins go back to the prehistoric Celts, when the hounds fought alongside their masters as war dogs in battles against their enemies. In later centuries, they did indeed hunt wolves.

They are very large, very strong, and very fierce in a fight. Despite their effectiveness in the hunt (or in battle, during ancient times), their disposition is mild, peaceable, reserved, and easygoing. They get very attached to their owners and any dogs they are raised with, and become morose if separated from them.

The hounds in my story are definitely wolfhounds!

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found



The Unicorn Is Found

By 1728, the tapestries depicting the royal hunt of the unicorn were hanging in the Château de Verteuil, a property of the Lord of La Rochefoucauld located along the river Charente.

Two of the tapestries were placed in a hall adjacent to a chapel. The other five adorned a bedroom. The smallest may have served as a bed canopy. The larger pieces would have required a wide stretch of wall to accommodate them.

During the French Revolution, the tapestries were looted and used to cover potatoes. When recovered from a barn many years later, they proved to have sustained damage, although they retained their vibrant colors. One, in fragments, was repurposed to serve as bed curtains.

The second of the seven tapestries depicts the unicorn dipping his horn in a stream of water flowing from a fountain. The horn purifies the water for a variety of animals to drink from it.

In medieval Christian allegory, the lion represents Christ because of the beast’s “three natures.”

When the lion walks in the high mountains, he erases his tracks with his tail, exemplifying the way Jesus’ divinity was in repose during his earthly ministry. When the lion sleeps with his eyes open, he symbolizes Jesus physically dead upon the cross, but spiritually alive. And when the lion roars over his cubs (born dead) to bring them to life, he represents Jesus’ resurrection.

(To medieval scholars, the lion was a beast every bit as fabulous as a unicorn, a griffon, or a pegasus. Their understanding of leonine habits was lacking, to put it mildly!)

The other beasts possess symbolism as well.

The panther is Christ again, the ultimate enemy of the devil, much as the panther is the enemy of the dragon, ultimate serpent. The stag, too, is Christ, who tramples and destroys Satan.

The leopard is valiant and sweet-breathed, but a signifier of bastardy. The rabbit represents the modest, retiring soul who trusts fully in God. The hyena stands for greed, hypocrisy, and the temptations of the devil, sins to be resisted.

Just at the moment when the unicorn dips his horn in the fountain’s waters, the hunters discover him. In the tapestry, they all point. “See! There he is!”

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Attacked



The Hunters Enter the Woods

I’m in the midst of writing a short story inspired by seven tapestries created in the late 1400s to depict the royal hunt of the unicorn.

The tapestries are gorgeous, although historians have thus far proven unable to identify the original patron and tapestry workshop from which they came. The first recorded mention of them has the works hanging in the Paris home of the de la Rochefoucauld family in 1680.

Nor is there agreement on the symbolism of the story told. Perhaps the hunt depicts two beguiled lovers, the knight represented by the unicorn, the lady by the maiden. Perhaps the hunt is an allegory for the Passion of Christ. Or perhaps both stories are present, each enriched by the presence of the other.

The first of the seven tapestries depicts the start of the hunt, when the hunters and their hunting dogs are ranging through the forest, hoping to catch sight of the mythical beast they will pursue.

So…how did I come to be writing a unicorn tale?

It all started with story bundles. A number of my stories have been included in a series of bundles entitled Here Be…

“Crossing the Naiad” appeared in Here Be Ghosts. The Troll’s Belt is part of Here Be Fairies. And all three of my dragon stories feature in Here Be Dragons.

Alex Butcher curates these fine collections, and she has several new ones planned for 2019. Here Be Unicorns will release in March or April. When she asked me if I had a story that would fit its theme, I had to confess that I did not.

But her query got me thinking. Why didn’t I have a unicorn story? I should! I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and soon an idea bloomed. After I’d scribbled four different outlines in my journal (three of which were too long), I realized I needed to take my longing to write about a unicorn seriously.

I started writing this week. 😀

Update on The Sovereign’s Labyrinth

For those of you who have been watching the progress bar on my website…

The second of the Gael & Keir Adventures is in good shape. In fact, it is in the hands of my first reader. She’s read the first few pages, reported that she was gripped by the opening, and is eager to read more. I like hearing that!

It’s time for me to reserve a cover for the book from Deranged Doctor Design.

I’ve already been thinking about the next adventure. I’ve actually written the opening scene, and I have a tentative title. Deepearth Rising. I’m just as excited about it as I was about Sovereign.

I’m not quite ready to post a progress bar for Deepearth Rising, because I need to transform the mass of ideas I have for it into a coherent outline. Usually I do this before I write the first scene. But the first scene was just here in my head, and I wanted to write it while it was fresh. So I did!

But I plan to finish my unicorn story before I do more work on Gael & Keir Adventure 3. I’ll tell you more about it as I make progress! 😀

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked



That Sudden Leap

I researched and planned for The Sovereign’s Labyrinth for nearly two months. As the story grew in my mind, I found myself often murmuring, “Oh! That’s so cool! I can’t wait to write that!”

Concept for the bridges into Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

I finally did start writing on November 9, and the actuality not only lived up to my expectations; it surpassed them. How often does that happen? But it really did happen with this novel.

Each scene had me rubbing my hands in anticipation as I prepared to write it, and gasping at the end, “Oh, that was cool!”

I suspect that is why my word count mounted up so quickly. I was writing as though I were a reader, saying, “Just one scene more,” and staying up too late at night for it!

But that’s not why the progress bar in the side bar of my website leapt abruptly ahead.

Concept for the moat surrounding Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

If you’ve been watching it, you’ll have seen the word count increasing from between 1,000 to 2,000 words most days, while the blue stripe moved steadily rightward.

Then, yesterday, as it was crossing the 50% mark, it jumped past the 90% mark. What’s up with that? Did I do a spot of time traveling, so that I could write 50,000 words one night between dusk and dawn?

Well, no.

Whenever I start a book, I’m essentially guessing about how long I think it will be. The Sovereign’s Labyrinth was definitely going to be a full novel. But was it going to be a doorstopper novel of 160,000 words? I didn’t think so. As cool as it seemed, it didn’t feel l-o-n-g.

Concept for an interior garden within Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

So I estimated that maybe it would be 130,000 words, and that is what I used to calculate the percentages on the progress bar.

Once I was well into the writing of the novel, I began to suspect that it might be 100,000 words. But would it really?

I don’t like to monkey around with a gazillion different estimates while I’m writing a book. It would just distract me, when I want to reserve my brainpower for storytelling.

So I left that 130K alone, figuring I’d adjust it when I got closer to the end.

Of course, you know what happened with that! The closer I was to the end, the more exciting the events in my story became. I was writing late into the night, sometimes past midnight. Yikes!

Which meant that I was too sleepy at night to bother with the progress bar, and too excited about jumping into writing in the morning to do it then.

But today (Thursday, January 31, as I write this—or was it yesterday? bad memory!) I said, “C’mon, Jessica! Time to get that progress bar within striking distance of a reasonable total. You’ve got 71,000 words written and another four or five big scenes to go. Call it 80,000 and adjust that bar.”

So I did!

I have to catch up on sleep, so I am forcing myself not to start the next scene (I already wrote two today), even though I really, really want to. But, tomorrow? I am so going to dive on it!

I found the photos accompanying this post during the research I did for building the world of Hantida, the city in which The Sovereign’s Labyrinth takes place.

If you’d like to see more of such world building, check out:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel



Last Day of Kobo’s Start a New Series Sale

Kobo has been running a special promotion for first books of series.

The Tally Master is in it!

If you buy ebooks from Kobo, now is your chance to pick up The Tally Master at a discount.

Since I’ll be releasing the second Gael & Keir Adventure later this year, it’s a great time to start the series. 😀

Here’s the link to The Tally Master on Kobo. (Or click the image below.)

Today is the last day of the sale, so don’t wait!

Update: The sale is now over. I hope that those who took advantage of the deal (and there were a number of you) are now happily reading! 😀



A Library in the Glorious Citadel

Just this week (as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth), Gael and Keir decided on a late-night excursion through the Glorious Citadel and found themselves scrounging around its library. Which meant that I needed to know how my Hantidans make books.

I tend to borrow very freely from real world history as I build my North-lands, and I already knew that I wanted to borrow from ancient China for my Hantidans’ books. But I didn’t know a lot about bookbinding in the ancient east, so I had to read up.

I learned that the earliest writings in significant numbers were found on oracle bones used in divination.

The diviner would submit a question to a deity by carving the inquiry into an ox scapula or a turtle plastron. Then intense heat would be applied via a metal rod, until the bone (or plastron) cracked. The pattern of cracks would be interpreted by the diviner, and his interpretation would be engraved beside the carved question.

A millennium later, the Chinese were writing on bamboo slips which were tied together with silken cords or leather thongs when the text was long and required more space than a single slip could provide. These early books were essentially bundles.

The next innovation was the use of silk made into near-paper for writing. The silk was formed into scrolls, and the writing implement changed from a bamboo stylus to a hair brush.

The transition from bamboo bundles to silk scrolls was not instantaneous, and for a long time both formats remained in use.

Because silk paper was expensive, when a paper made from tree bark, hemp, rags, and fishing nets was invented, it became very popular. It, too, was formatted into scrolls.

The transition from scrolls to codices began when the long paper of a scroll was folded in wide accordion pleats. Eventually these pleats were cut into separate pages and bound together in a style called butterfly binding. Again, the two forms (scrolls and codices) coexisted for quite some time.

I decided that my Hantidans were in the midst of their own transition from scroll to codex. Scrolls are by far more numerous, but the new codex form is catching on fast!

But what was the nature of their inks and brushes? Not the traditional quill and ink pot that comes to mind from medieval Europe!

The brushes are ornate and possess caps to protect the bristles during storage.

The inks are made from soot—lacquer soot, pine soot, or oil soot—mixed with glue and aromatic spices, then pressed into shape and allowed to dry to become an inkstck.

When the scribe wishes to write, he grinds the inkstick against an inkstone, pouring water over the ground ink and mixing the two together in the reservoir of the inkstone. The scribe dips his brush into the liquid and then draws on his paper.

Other tools involved in the process of writing are brush holders, brush hangers, paper weights, a rinsing pot, a seal, and seal paste.

This was far more than I needed to know for Gael’s and Keir’s secret visit to the library, but I found it fascinating. Gael and Keir do pass by a desk set with writing implements, but the main action of the scene occurs when another pair of surreptitious night visitors also come to the library!

I won’t say more, lest I stray into spoiler territory. 😉

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap



Quarters in the Glorious Citadel

As I write this blog post, my heroes—Gael and Keir—have succeeded in gaining access to the “forbidden city” wherein lies the lodestone they seek.

(I’m 24,875 words into the novel, The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, book 2 in the Gael & Keir Adventures. I hope to be further along when this post goes live!)

Their quarters are pleasant, much like those in the photo above, although furnished with low cabinets holding bedding quilts, kneeling cushions, and other necessities. Also, their rooms are around a corner from each other rather than side by side.

The sliding screens of Keir’s room front a narrow gravel courtyard with a row of stone lanterns in it.

Gael’s view features a moss garden.

Here’s a floor plan showing the rooms and how they connect to one another and the wooden walkways outside.

Gael and Keir encounter violence and mystery in the Glorious Citadel before they even settle into their quarters!

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap



The Dreaming Tour Nileau

I wouldn’t want to live in the Chateau de Montbrun (or its analog in my North-lands, the Tour Nileau). But I’d love to visit for a week!

Imagine waking up in a four-poster and getting out of bed to watch the sun rising through the window in the massively thick stone wall of the castle. Climbing a spiral stair to the battlements to get some fresh morning air. Looking out over the beauty of the countryside from that vantage.

This bed (right) in the fifteenth-century country house of Kingston Lacy has the feel of the one I imagine my heroine Lealle sleeping in.

Although the walls of Lealle’s room would be the whitewashed stones of the castle, not tidily papered plaster!

An early scene in A Talisman Arcane transpires in Lealle’s room. She wipes the mud from her little brother’s shoes, so that their mother won’t know that he’s been playing in the park with a friend despite strict parental prohibition.

Here’s a floor plan showing the castle’s bedchambers.

For more about the Tour Nileau, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau