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



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



The Living Tour Nileau

I suspect that Montbrun (the model for my Tour Nileau) must have been quite uncomfortable to live in during medieval times.

Heavy stone walls, huge (cold) rooms, few windows, drafty garderobes, and so on. But Montbrun looks to have been newly modernized for this century and our world, just as the living quarters of Tour Nileau were made comfortable—even luxurious—by the mother of my heroine Lealle, in the nineteenth century of my North-lands.

In an early scene from A Talisman Arcane, Lealle mentions the main dining hall, where her parents entertain when they hold gala occasions in their home, inviting hundreds of guests.

But Lealle dines in the ‘small’ dining room with her family that evening, not a cozy place, but certainly less imposing than the larger space.

Of course, neither the Palacio Real de Madrid nor Chatsworth House (both above) are quite right as representations of my Tour Nileau.

The rooms where Lealle and her family live have been repaired, had windows added, and been furnished with ‘contemporary’ appointments (contemporary for the North-lands nineteenth century), but they still retain their essential medieval structure and character.

Here’s the floor plan showing the dining rooms and parlors of Tour Nileau.

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



The Historical Tour Nileau

Tour Nileau, as presented in A Talisman Arcane, shelters three disparate functions within its massy walls.

The most prominent one is the Court of Audire, in which serious criminal charges are heard and tried—those of assault, murder, and injurious magery.

However, the castle also serves as the private residence of the High Justice of Claireau and his family. (My heroine Lealle is his daughter.)

Because the castle is so old, it is recognized as a site of considerable historical significance. Thus it is opened at regular intervals to visitors wishing to tour the building. The ground level and the first floor above it are the areas of most interest to legal scholars and aficionados of Pavelle’s history. The family quarters on the second and third floors are rarely made available to the public.

The castle’s great hall is a vast uncomfortable space, and the chapel (unused for religious services at this time) isn’t much better.

Lealle’s father is very fond of the library and its annex, both filled with legal tomes, and both well maintained.

Here is the floor plan for the historically interesting first floor.

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



A Townhouse in Hantida

This week I’d envisioned myself showing you the world of my book that will release in March. The protagonist lives in a cool medieval castle, and I’ve got floor plans and photos to share!

But those floor plans have not yet been transformed from rough sketches into clear drawings that will make sense to someone other than me. I will finish those drawings, but in the meantime…

I’ve been writing the first few scenes of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, the sequel to The Tally Master. I’m really excited about the story. I feel like I am there in Hantida with Gael and Keir. Hantida is a large city surrounded by rice paddies and near to a river.

I needed a rough sketch of the house Gael and Keir visit in the first chapter. I used the machiya of Kyoto (traditional townhouses from Japan’s Heian period) as my model.

A rough sketch was all I needed, but I grew so enamored of the architectural beauty of the structure that I was beguiled into making my rough sketch into a finished drawing.

Naturally I want to share it with you!

0—The Front Street Most of Hantida’s streets are dirt, but a few are paved with stone. In the shopping district, where the shops are fronted by roofed arcades, there are raised stepping stones at the street corners so that pedestrians can cross above the muck of the road.

1—Front Room If the family kept a shop, then this front room would be the space where their goods or services were offered, and where customers could enter, either directly from the street, or through the entrance courtyard on the side. It’s a private room for the family that Gael and Keir have come to help.

2—Entrance Courtyard A pocket courtyard, graveled, and adorned with pots of bamboo. A tall, sturdy gate gives access to it from the street.

3—Entrance Foyer Visitors to the home remove their shoes in this stone-floored space.

4—Entry Hall A niche off the main reception room. The floor is wood, but your shoes should be off!

5—Reception Room Visitors are received and entertained here. Thick mats of rice straw and woven rushes cover the floor. Sitting cushions (and sleeping quilts) are stored in low cabinets along the walls. A low table makes serving food easy. Sliding screens of rice paper give access to an adjacent room and to an outdoor walkway (8).

6—Private Room

7—Kitchen A long room with a stone floor and clay walls, due to the fire hazards inherent in cooking over a bed of charcoal.

8—Wooden Walkway The walkway is out of doors. It brings light and air to the interior spaces of the townhouse.

9—Garden Storage A closet for the watering can, spades, and other implements needed to tend the garden (10).

10—Garden A small, but carefully-tended pocket of greenery.

11—Bath My Hantidans like to soak in deep wooden tubs full of very hot water.

12—Stone Passage This short passage to the side yard is roofed, but out of doors. A small chamber on one side holds a chamber pot. Another holds a counter where basin and ewer allow for washing up.

13—Side Yard Any particularly messy chore can be accomplished in this graveled space. A few raised plots of earth near the back permit some vegetables for the table to be grown.

14—Storage House A clay-walled chamber where costly robes, scrolls, and ornaments and furniture for the off-season are stored.

15—Yard Storage

16—Steps A walk connects to the back alley, where the night soil cart passes, the refuse collectors, water carriers, etc.

17 Back Alley

What happens in my Hantidan home?

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth opens with Gael and Keir newly arrived in the city of Hantida. They’ve been healing their way across the continent, Keir using the skills she earned in her professional training, Gael learning how to be a physician’s assistant under her supervision. They make a good team.

Whenever they arrive somewhere new, word spreads quickly of the amazing cures they bring off. Hantida is no different, and they are summoned to attend a 12-year-old girl who is badly burned.

En route to the girl’s home, they witness a peculiar, aborted arrest. After they arrive, complications—both medical and non-medical—begin to pile up.

The lodestone they are seeking is present in Hantida, but acquiring it will not be at all straight forward. There’s a mystery at the city’s heart, and our duo will have to solve it to win out.

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



Stymied for a Title

I’m still stuck! I need a title, and I don’t have one.

To Thread the Labyrinth

To Thread the Labyrinth was the working title, and it seemed perfect all through the writing of the novel. A physical labyrinth fills part of the mansion’s cellar. A metaphysical labyrinth troubles my heroine. And the allusion to Theseus and the Minotaur is simply fun.

I loved it that I had a good title from the very beginning of writing my story.

But, but, but! My first reader didn’t like the title at all (too languid, no punch). My second reader didn’t think it was right either. (Implication of confusion, choosing, and picking one’s way, when the story is really about courage.) Neither was my husband much smitten with it. With so many against me, I caved.

A Legacy Arcane

Two legacies form the twin hearts of the story. One is a curse, afflicting the woman who inherited it. The other is a blessing, a cultural creation forgotten and abandoned amidst the vicissitudes of history. Both are secret and understood by few. Plus…who isn’t intrigued by the arcane and compelled by the promise of a legacy? Good hook!

I was sure I now had my title.

Once again I encountered resistance to my choice. My husband liked this one, but my first reader felt it was too dark for the golden-summer-evening mood of my story. My second reader felt that the essence of the story is not about legacies. And one very intelligent teen didn’t know what the word ‘arcane’ meant.

I could see all the points made by the dissenting opinions.

Talisman’s Reach

The inheritance that plagues my heroine is a talisman of old, forged by a brilliant inventor, and tumbling down through the ages to trouble all who tangle with it. It reaches through time. Thus we have Talisman’s Reach. My first reader generously devised this one and donated it to the cause. My son liked it. My daughter liked it. I liked it!

My husband thought it sounded like a place name: Howard’s End, King’s Cliffe, Skye’s Reach, etc.

Well, that rather tarnished the possibility for me.


I decided to write down every idea I could come up with, censoring nothing, no matter how absurd. Somewhere amongst the dross there might be gold.

Her Labyrinth
Labyrinth Intangible
Labyrinth of Legend
Defy the Labyrinth
A Twist of Trouble and Truth
The Talisman Legacy
Talisman’s Tontine
Labyrinth Within, Labyrinth Without
Talisman’s Tribute
Talisman’s Travail
Talisman’s Trump
Legacy of Legend
Talisman of Ages
Talisman of Old
Magic’s Legend

There were many more than those I’ve listed above, but all of them failed to evoke my enthusiasm.

Poetry as Inspiration

My first reader suggested I visit the poets of the past for ideas. I’d watched her develop some brilliant titles for her own books using this method. Could it work for me?

Strange Charm
Ghost of an Ancient Legend
Child of Silence
Forgotten Mornings
Legends Old
Fear Made Manifest
Mortal Daring
Ascending Jubilant
Hallowed Relic
Grow Her Wings
Adamantine Chains
In Wand’ring Mazes Lost
This Pendant World
Wandering the Labyrinth
In Secret Kept
Won by Courage
Legacy Forgotten
Let Daylight In
Unbidden Guest
Taught to Conceal
Charm’s Wound
Ancient Alchemy

Well…these were better than my brainstorming efforts, but they were not better than any of the three titles I had first considered seriously.

What to do? What to do?

Images as Inspiration

I decided to play to my strengths. I’m good with visuals, practiced with graphics. And a title does not stand alone. It appears on the book cover, and the impression created by the title is heavily influenced by the imagery of the art.

Now, I have booked a spot with Deranged Doctor Design for my cover. They created the cover for The Tally Master, which a sister author was so kind as to call “magnificent.” I feel confident that DDD will create something equally marvelous for this book…once I have a title. 😀

But, I figured that I could try my top three contenders within the milieu of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites and those influenced by them. Seeing my titles within the context of art might clarify the issue for me.

Where Do I Stand Now?

I’m still undecided. But I have two more resources to consult.

1) I plan to read through the story v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y looking for a phrase in the text that will be perfect.

2) My son is my final reader, the one who gets the story after all the revisons and corrections have been made, so as to give it either a thumb’s up or the reverse. He just bopped into my room to tell me that he’s halfway through and to gush. He’s really, really liking it. And he has an opinion about the title that stems directly and immediately from his experience. That opinion…is carrying weight!

No, I’m not going to share it with you quite yet.

I know, I’m bad! 😉

But I’d love to hear your opinion!

Edited to Add: My son was halfway through when I wrote this post. Now, on the day it is going live, my son has finished his read-through. His verdict? He loved it, and he’s demanding a sequel.

He’ll probably get it, too, since every person who has read the novel thus far pleaded for a sequel. They want more adventures with Lealle and Gaetan. This makes me happy. 😀