Unicorn’s Lullaby

While writing a scene in “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” I found myself engaged with a lullaby sung by the Holy Mother to a maiden in distress.

I went hunting for traditional lullabies for inspiration and discovered the lovely Ar Hyd y Nos (“All Through the Night”) composed circa 1784 by the harp player Edward Jones.

Amy Robbins-Wilson sings the the melody beautifully.

The original lyrics, in Welsh, were written by John Ceiriog Hughes.

Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
“Dyma’r ffordd i fro gogoniant,”
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir brydferthwch
Teulu’r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.

There are more verses, but I will not transcribe them here. Check this link, if you are curious!

Sir Harold Boulton wrote a popular English translation in 1884.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night.

I imagine my own lullaby being sung to the same tune.

Sleep, my heart, and love wrap round thee
Slumber gently dusk to dawn
Singing angels gather round thee
Chorus sweetly dusk to dawn
Slow the moon doth climb her ambit
Stars attend her, trailing bright
God in heaven guard thy cradle
Slumber gently dusk to dawn

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives

 

Share

Wing-clap of the Phoenix

The antiphoners of Pavelle—magic users—give flowery names to their art.

Basic techniques taught to beginners include things such as the Zephyr’s Gavotte or the Breath of the Pegasus.

Lealle, the heroine of A Talisman Arcane, is learning advanced techniques such as the Nest of the Phoenix and the Flight of the Phoenix.

All of the techniques involve the manipulation of an inner energy referred to as energea.

Aural practitioners hear the energea as music. Kinesthetic practitioners feel it as weight within the body. And visual practitioners see it as glowing, sparking light.

Lealle is a visual practitioner, and her reach within for the energea shapes the both the result (such as healing a bruise) and the pattern of the flow of light.

If you were to cut across one of these currents of light and draw the cross-section, you would see a delicate snowflake of a pattern.

I imagined the magic of my North-lands long before I ever tried to tried to draw it.

And when I first put pen to paper, I didn’t realize what I was drawing. I thought I was creating images that had lain within my imagination unrealized until the tools from Zentangle unlocked them. This was true, but incomplete.

It was only when I explored the idea of publishing my drawings as a coloring book that I realized they were renditions of energea, and that there was a story about energea and a young mage I needed to tell!

You can read about the first stirrings of my inspiration, and see two other patterns of energea in these blog posts:
Nest of the Phoenix (Story for My Coloring Book)
Flight of the Phoenix (Page for a Coloring Book)

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s World
Ohtavie’s Home

 

Share

The Unicorn Lives

In the seventh tapestry of the unicorn cycle, we see the unicorn resurrected and contentedly lying beneath a tree full of pomegranates.

The imagery has departed from the great hunt as medieval nobles knew it to become entirely allegorical.

The hunter is Love, the hunted game is the poet-lover, and the happy conclusion of the hunt is the union between the two.

Jehan Acart de Hesdin wrote a poem of 1900+ verses in 1332—La Prise Amoureuse—in which he speaks of the forest as Youth and the huntsman’s hounds as Beauty, Kindness, Intelligence, Courtesy, and so on.

Although the unicorn is both tethered and fenced, we know that he could easily break his leash and leap the low fence. He stays because he chooses to.

The plants in the tapestry symbolize different elements of loving commitment.

Ripe, seed-laden pomegranates were a medieval signifier for fertility and marriage. Wild orchid, bistort, and thistle possess similar symbolism.

The flowery meadow adorning so much of this tapestry is one of the things I love most.

It is a style known as millefleurs (“a thousand flowers”) that was used only in the late European Middle Ages, principally between 1480 and 1520. The plants are of many different varieties, and they fill the ground randomly, without pattern and without connecting or overlapping.

Later tapestries would feature repeats of a smaller number of different plants, usually placed as mirror images of one another.

When the millefleurs style was revived in the nineteenth century by William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, the plants often overlapped and appeared as part of the landscape rather than as an ornamental backdrop.

I was utterly charmed when I encountered a millefleurs-inspired garden in the book Theme Gardens by Barbara Damrosch. She describes a plesaunce—a lawn in which the grass has been replaced by low-growing flowering plants such as creeping thyme, catmint, primroses, pinks, violets, and more.

For a while I dreamed of planting just such a garden in my own yard. Then my twins were born, and gardening took a backseat to mothering my children.

But I did include that plesaunce in one scene near the end of my short story The Hunt of the Unicorn. The princess awaits her huntsmen in a walled garden with tall delphiniums and foxgloves along its edges and a flowery mead at the center.

Another scene near the beginning of my story was also inspired by art. The princess walks through the halls of an Escher-like palace with more stairs than makes sense, and more passageways than chambers. But the palace resembles the vibrant structures in two illustrations by Kay Nielsen, more than the terrifying spaces depicted by M.C. Escher.

I didn’t even remember the Nielsen paintings until after I wrote the scene, when I had the nagging sensation that my palace was strangely familiar.

I had to do quite a bit of searching to find them, but find them I did! One illustrated the fairy tale “Catskin” and the other, the fairy tale “Rosebud,” both from Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm.

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share

Ohtavie’s Home

Ohtavie de Bellay lives in a mansion that fronts onto a large square with a park.

The photo below of a gilded age home possesses exactly the right feeling for Ohtavie’s abode. I can imagine myself standing in the park and gazing at the opulence of the Maison de Bellay.

Because circumstance has forced Ohtavie to dismiss all of her servants, she doesn’t use most of the rooms in the mansion. The dining room was one of many swathed in holland covers to protect its furnishings.

Before the room was abandoned, it might have looked like this one in Marble House.

During the events that transpire in A Talisman Arcane, Ohtavie re-opens her father’s library and begins sitting there to read. I remember being glad, as I wrote, that she was re-discovering the solace of books!

When A Talisman Arcane opens, Ohtavie occupies the housekeeper’s parlor and bedroom. You can see them in the back right corner (next to the servants’ hall) of the floor plan below. (Click the floor plan for a larger image.)

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s (and Ohtavie’s) World

 

Share

The Unicorn Is Killed

In the sixth tapestry of the unicorn cycle, the slaying of the unicorn is modeled after that of the stag in a stag hunt.

Two huntsmen wound the beast at the throat and shoulder, while a nobleman gives the death blow from behind with his sword.

The mort is sounded by a hornsman, signifying the demise of the beast. Beyond the hornsman, we see another vignette in which the body of the unicorn is bought to the lord and lady at the castle gate.

I’d always understood that wild boar were particularly dangerous adversaries (and they are), but apparently stags were even worse.

Thus Gaston Phoebus, in his Livre de la Chasse, quoted a popular saying: “After the boar, the doctor, and after the stag, the bier.”

Judging from what I learned of stag hunts, the hunting of a unicorn would be a lengthy and grueling affair. The unicorn would run fast and far, would fight when brought to bay, and then run again.

This led me to research what the effects of such a chase might be, which in turn brought me to learn about the respiratory system of the horse, which is extraordinary and extraordinarily efficient.

The length of time for which a horse can gallop is directly tied to the amount of oxygen he can take in. In studies on treadmills where a horse was given enriched air, he did not fatigue as early. Air is everything.

Just how much air do a horse’s lungs move? A lot.

During the course of a 5-furlong race around a racetrack, a horse will have moved six bathtubs worth of air through his lungs. And the rate of flow for the moving air—in and out of the lungs—is 64 to 79 liters per second.

Compare that to a hair dryer at 40 liters per second, or to a sprinting human at 4 liters per second.

Then realize that the blood pressure in the lung blood vessels of a galloping horse is four or five times higher than the resting pressure. And the lung membrane between air and blood is only 1/100th the width of a human hair.

This is why many racehorses experience pulmonary hemorrhage after a race! And I’m certain the unicorn in my story did as well.

The other physical symptom I wondered about was lather and sweat. Why do so many horse stories speak of horses working up a lather?

Unlike that of humans, horse sweat and horse saliva includes a component called, fittingly enough, latherin. Its purpose is to allow the horse’s sweat to flow through the horse’s hairy waterproof coat from the skin to the air, where it can evaporate.

Without evaporation, the sweat would not the produce the cooling which is so necessary.

And the latherin which facilitates evaporation also produces the foamy froth seen on the hide of an exercising horse, especially where something rubs, such as the reins on the neck or the bit in the mouth.

I loved learning these details, which I found fascinating!

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Lives
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share

Justice in Lealle’s World

Lealle is the 14-year-old protagonist of my new release, A Talisman Arcane, and her father is the High Justice of Claireau, the town in which they live.

At the time of my novel, there’s an important and controversial trial going forward, over which Lealle’s father presides. Some of the people angry about the trial cause problems for my heroine.

Therefore, when I wrote Lealle’s story, I devoted a lot of thought to the justice system in Pavelle, the small country that the Giralliyan Empire annexed twenty years before, which forms the larger setting for the town of Claireau.

As High Justice, Lealle’s father sits in judgement over one of the higher courts in the land, the Court of Audire. Serious crimes are tried there: murder, assault, arson, larceny, kidnapping, forgery, extortion, blackmail, and such.

There are lower courts for lesser offenses.

The Bailliage hears cases of pilferage, unruly conduct, public drunkenness, trespassing, vandalism, reckless coachmanship, and such.

The Prévot’s Court handles petty offenses such as littering, loitering, fishing in a neighbor’s pond without sanction, failure to control livestock, and so on.

There are also higher courts.

The Court of Appeal hears cases from the Bailliage and the Court of Audire, when someone charged in the lower court believes a miscarriage of justice has occurred.

The Abrogate Court functions a little differently than all the lower courts.

Generally the lower courts refer matters up the chain. That is, the Prévot’s Court may decide that the unsanctioned fisherman was doing more than casting his hook in his neighbor’s pond—he was stealing fish—and thus would be judged in the Bailliage.

Or the young man racing his curricle on the public highway was not merely driving in a reckless manor, but had run down and injured a pedestrian and thus must be tried in the Court of Audire.

But these referrals upward stop at the Court of Appeal.

The court above it—the Abrogate Court—reaches down at its own initiative, issuing writs of summons to the lower courts when any of three conditions pertains: 1) when it learns that a matter of law may have been misdecided; 2) when one county in Pavelle has a complaint against another county; or 3) when a case involves or affects a high official within Pavelle’s governing bodies.

To summarize all of the above, I give you the diagram at right.

Charges of treason leave Pavelle’s jurisdiction altogether, to be heard by the courts in Bazinthiad, the capital of the Giralliyan Empire, of which Pavelle is a part.

Civil cases, in which one individual accuses another of malignant conduct toward them, don’t go into the criminal courts I’ve described, but through an entirely different channel.

The Tribunal of the Ordeal hears most such cases, although really important disputes go to the Tribunal of the Grand Ordeal. A Tribunal of Commerce judges matters of commercial law.

One other thing I had to consider while writing A Talisman Arcane was the law keeping force in Pavelle. Who watched the streets and brought criminals in for justice to be done?

Those were the armigers, and quite a few of them pass through the pages of my book.

The armigers are supervised by escuyers.

Baillies provide security within the courts while cases are going forward. They also conduct prisoners between the court and the jail.

Before Pavelle was annexed by Giralliya, its governance was shared between church and state. That is, all jurisdictions owed obedience and loyalty to the Prince, who was the country’s sovereign, but some regions were governed by the Prince’s vassals, while others were under church authority.

Counts ruled counties, and seigneurs ruled fees.

But archbishops ruled sees, and bishops ruled cathedras. These large areas were further divided into parisses administered by vicars.

I bring this up, because the religious sees and cathedras possessed a court system different from that of the secular counties and fees, until Giralliya annexed Pavelle and forcibly switched the judicial system in the religious jurisdictions to match that in the secular ones.

The change was one of many such changes that still serve as a source of tension in annexed Pavelle.

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Ohtavie’s Home

 

Share

The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn

The legendary unicorn is too fierce to suffer defeat from mere huntsmen and hounds.

When they find him, he runs at a speed hard to match. When they bring him to bay, he fights and prevails.

Only the magic of a maiden can subdue him.

But how does this mystic capture transpire? Does the beast grow docile in the presence of a maiden and lay its head in her lap or upon her breast as the medieval bestiaries assert?

The tapestry in the unicorn cycle that depicted this mystic moment was damaged, and only two fragments remain.

In the fragment with the maiden, we also see a hound lunging for the unicorn’s back, or perhaps for its flank, where blood is visible. The unicorn may be docile, but its capture seems likely to be violent.

My own story, The Hunt of the Unicorn, diverges from the medieval legend at several points, but it does have one supremely peaceful vignette. My unicorn remembers his first moments of life after his birth.

He is ever so weak and wobbly when he tries to stand. But before he makes that effort, he knows contentment and security in the warm presence of his mother.

I imagine unicorns as possessing many of the attributes of horses. One of the equine characteristics I remember reading about is the difference between how humans relate to touch and how horses relate to it.

We humans are very cuddly, by and large. We hug, we pat each other, we hold one another, we stroke the head, and so on.

Horses aren’t cuddly. As herd animals, they take great comfort in the presence of their herd mates. (A lone horse is a horse vulnerable to predators.) They also literally throw their weight around to communicate. The nudge their foals. They hip check or shoulder check one another to assert dominance.

So when my unicorn was born, his mother nuzzled him and nudged him. But it was her quiet presence that he found most comforting.

I discovered a video of a newborn foal and its mother that captured perfectly the interval after my unicorn’s birth.

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share

The Unicorn Defends Itself

The huntsmen in the medieval tapestries depicting the unicorn hunt are clearly hunting par force or by coursing. Meaning that they use sighthounds, not only scent hounds, to pursue the prey.

In the fourth tapestry of the unicorn cycle, the dogs and the huntsman have caught up with the unicorn, but to little avail. The beast is fierce and fights off its attackers successfully. Its horn pierces one hound’s breast, likely killing it. Who knows what further wounds the unicorn inflicts before it charges away through the forest?

In order to write my short story, The Hunt of the Unicorn, I needed to learn more about coursing as it was done in medieval times.

Fortunately, there are several books from the time period detailing exactly how the hunt proceeded. And I found a modern-day enthusiast who devotes a website to the topic.

The “Great Hunt” of the Middle Ages was an elaborate affair with distinct and multiple stages.

The Preparation

The day before the hunt, the huntmaster sallies forth to talk with foresters and woodsmen.

From them he learns what game is available and where each beast lay overnight. He hears accounts of what the foresters know regarding the probable size of the animal. The noblemen participating in the hunt want a large, strong adversary.

The Gathering

The whole of the hunting party sets out the next day: noblemen, huntmaster, huntsmen, dog handlers (berners), mews boys, etc.

While the noblemen enjoy an al fresco meal, the huntmaster sends his huntsmen out to the lays he learned of the day before. There each huntsman records the size of the animal’s hoofprint by breaking a small stick and collects the fumes (droppings).

The huntsmen bring their sticks and fumes back to the huntmaster, who evaluates them to determine the potential prey, one that is large and ‘in fat.’

The huntmaster chooses which beast they will hunt, and that focuses their attention. They will not break off from pursuit of that animal to chase another.

Placing the Sighthounds

Once the prey is chosen, three relays of three sighthounds, each relay accompanied by a berner, are placed along the probable route that the pursuit will take.

Then a special tracking dog called a lymer is set to work. (He is a scent hound, not a sighthound.) It is his job to find and move the prey animal. He works on a leash or ‘line’ held by his keeper.

Once the prey has been located and moved to the start of the planned route, the hunt proper begins.

Loose the Raches

Twelve or twenty-four scent hounds called raches are loosed to chase the prey, exhausting it both through the length of its running flight and through the fear induced by the baying of the dogs.

The noblemen follow on horseback, at times wounding the prey animal with their swords or spears. Bows and arrows are not used.

If the raches lose the scent, the lymer is brought forward again to locate and move the prey.

Loose the Sighthounds

As the hunt draws past the first relay of sighthounds, these dogs are released. They are very fast, very strong, and fierce fighters. They sprint to bring the prey animal down.

But, often, the prey is equally fast, equally strong, and equally fierce. It escapes. Or it fights successfully and then escapes.

(This is the moment depicted in the fourth tapestry shown at the beginning of this post.)

So the hunt goes onward in pursuit. And when they pass the next relay of sighthounds, this second relay is loosed.

The End of the Hunt

In the medieval myth about the unicorn, the huntsmen and their hounds cannot succeed. The unicorn is too fierce for them. It is only by the involvement of a maiden that the fabulous beast can be subdued.

But most hunts of hares, deer, or even boar could succeed. If the first relay of sighthounds did not pull the prey down, then the second or third would.

The dogs were not allowed to kill the animal. They were pulled off, and one of the noblemen would slay the beast with his sword, dagger, or spear.

The animal would be skinned and disemboweled, the dogs given their share, and the remainder sent to the castle kitchens to be made into dishes for feasting.

Modern-day Ethics

All of the above likely seems brutal to our modern sensibilities. We can imagine rather vividly what it might be like to be the prey animal suffering a chase to its death.

But the medieval hunters were the culmination of a long history of hunting and coursing—millennia—to provide for the table. Without hunting, there was not enough food for them or their families. And like humans will in every time and place when a job has to be done, they made it serve as entertainment as well.

Many nations in our modern world have outlawed coursing, deeming it cruel and inhumane.

Lure coursing, in which a mechanically operated artificial lure is ‘hunted,’ keeps alive some of the pageantry and tradition of the medieval hunt, and the specially bred skills of the magnificent sighthounds, without putting an innocent prey animal through torture.

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share

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 Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share

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 Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

Share