Hantidan Garb

Although I draw inspiration from the history and cultures of the real world for my stories, I don’t reproduce reality wholesale. Which means that when I seek out images to represent elements of my fiction, I rarely find any that exactly match the visions I entertain in my imagination. I must make due with photographs and artwork that are almost what I have in mind, or close.

Luckily, almost and close often convey quite a bit. 😀

One consistent feature of Hantidan garb is that it possesses an asymmetric closure, with fastenings that run down the front, along one side, from neck to hem.

The peasants who work in the rice paddies, fish the river, or cut reeds in the wetlands wear linen jackets over skirts or wide trousers. Their garb needs to be practical, permitting free movement of the limbs, durable, and comfortable in the hot, humid climate.

The portrait of Kan Gao (at right) does not have the Hantidan side closure, but the jacket, skirt, and trousers otherwise mimic the Hantidan garb of a country laborer quite well.
 
 
 
 

City dwellers with less physically demanding jobs tend to wear robes. Apprentices, messengers, journeymen, clerks, delivery men, and other workers sport robes of drab linen.

Master artisans, scribes, business owners, and well-to-do professionals chose well-dyed linens, often adorned by tassels on the sleeves and shoulders.

A sash worn over the shoulder secures a pouch for carrying coin, abacus, or other tools used often in their respective trades.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Senior servants and palace functionaries wear silk robes, but in subdued colors.

The garments worn by the hanfu promoters at right are secured by sashes, whereas my Hantidans would find a snug binding around the waist too hot. But aside from that detail, the dark green silk and monochrome edgings are very like some of the robes Gael and Keir see while sojourning in the Glorious Citadel.

Dark green, dark blue, and dark yellow are common colors, as is dark gray, the robes donned by Gael and Keir.
 
 
 
 

Wealthy merchants and lesser nobility flaunt silk robes in brilliant colors: crimson, orange, turquoise, leaf green, sky blue, and so on. The most privileged might possess tone-on-tone patterns woven into the fabric, but sumptuary laws prevent more elaborate designs.

The sokutai attire shown at right depicts the shimmering brilliance typical of garments worn by the rich and powerful of Hantida, but lacks the asymmetric neckline and side closure of their robes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Only the elite among the nobility are permitted to wear elaborate, patterned brocades. Their luxurious robes are commonplace within their city palaces, on their country estates, and within the Glorious Citadel.

But they are rarely seen on the streets of Hantida. The elite take the air in secluded courtyards and gardens or hunt on broad private acreage. When they travel from one city residence to another, or from rural estate to urban mansion, they occupy curtained palanquins more often than not.

The first such robes encountered by Gael and Keir are fashioned of “an ornate brocade depicting herons lifting in flight.” The second feature “a tracery of green leaves and lizards upon a bronze ground.”

The traditional wedding dress (above at right), although beautiful, would be considered a simpler design among the high nobility of Hantida.

The robes worn by Emperor Qianlong (immediate right) are more typical garb for the highest of the high Hantidans.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The guards standing sentry duty on the walls of the Glorious Citadel wear bronze scale mail, but the silhouette of their armor is very similar to the ceremonial armor depicted in the portrait (right) of Emperor Qianlong.

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

 

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Timekeeping in Hantida

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth is an adventure mystery with a good bit of action and fighting.

It’s not a brain-bender mystery like the clever Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers, in which the time tables of trains prove integral to solving the plot.

Nor is it a mystery of manners like Georgette Heyer’s witty Detection Unlimited, in which the behavior of clocks plays an important role.

Nonetheless, as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I found myself thinking about timekeeping and how the Hantidans did it.

Since the story takes place in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, the Hantidans would not be telling time with clocks or watches or digital phones. So how did they do it?

The earliest timekeeping devices in our own history were sundials. In sunny climes, they worked well…by day. But what about the night time? And what about places with cloud cover?

Hantida has a wet season and a dry season, but even in the dry season, a storm comes through on many days. Which meant that even if they used sundials, they probably used something else to supplement them.

Drawing again from history, I had sandglasses (hourglasses), candle clocks, incense clocks, and water clocks as options.

Some historians speculate that the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans used sandglasses. They certainly had the technology necessary to make them. But the historical record does not contain actual mention of them as it does of water clocks. No one seems to be sure when sandglasses were invented and first used, but it may have been as late as the Middle Ages.

I am not absolutely strict about anachronisms in my North-lands—I write fantasy, after all—but I like to use real history as a guide. So I decided against sandglasses for my Hantidans.

The earliest mention of candle clocks comes earlier than those of sandglasses, in a Chinese poem written in 520 AD. That’s slightly better than the Middle Ages, but candle clocks have other disadvantages, namely that it’s hard to get the wicks and wax uniform enough to prevent inaccuracy in their timekeeping. Drafts were also a problem with the even burning of the candles.

Besides…520 AD still remains a lot later than 1500 BC!

(In the west, the candle clock bore regular markings on the column of wax. In the east, weights were attached to threads embedded in the wax. As the candle burned down, the threads were released, and the weights dropped into a plate below with a clatter.)

Before my research into timekeeping, I’d never heard of incense clocks. When I did— Wow! Just, wow! I fell in love!

Evidently incense can be calibrated more accurately than candle wax, so incense clocks are more accurate than candle clocks. And differently fragranced incense can be used in rotation, so that different hours are associated with different scents.

I had only one problem with bestowing incense clocks on my Hantidans. I absolutely knew that the Daoine Meras, the people in the next Gael & Keir Adventure, use incense clocks.

I didn’t want to repeat myself!

So my Hantidans received water clocks.

Actually, water clocks are pretty cool. And they appeared in Babylon around the 16th century BC, perhaps earlier still in ancient China (4000 BC). Water clocks and humans have been together for a very long time!

The earliest water clocks were outflow clocks. That is, the water flowed out from a hole in the bowl. As the water level fell, it passed markings on the inner surface that indicated the time. Often the dripping water was not caught by another vessel, but allowed to absorb into the sand or earth below.

Later water clocks were inflow clocks, in which water from an upper vessel flowed through a calibrated channel into a lower bowl. The inner surface of the lower bowl was marked, and as the water level rose, it indicated the time.

The Persians used yet another style to ensure that the water from their underground irrigation channels was distributed evenly among the farms sharing a given aquifer. They placed a small bowl with a calibrated hole in a larger bowl filled with water. The water flowed through the hole to fill the smaller bowl. When it sank, the clock manager would place a pebble in a container to count that iteration, pour the water back into the larger bowl, and then start the small bowl filling again.

I suspect my Hantidans use the inflow model of water clock.

But how did the Hantidans get started with timekeeping?

There’s plenty of water in Hantida: the river, the monsoons, the near-daily rain in the dry season, and a generous water table below ground. They wouldn’t have needed to divide water so carefully as did the Persians.

Here, real world history came to my rescue once again.

Some of the ancient cities were very populous, counting a hundred thousand people within their walls along with great wealth. They built walls to protect themselves and manned those walls with sentries who stood guard through both day and night.

The sentries needed to know when their watch was up and when the next one started. Timekeeping was required!

That made sense for Hantida.

I could just see the Keeper of the Watch sounding the drum in his tower on the city walls when the Keeper of the Clepsydra announced the first beat of the evening watch. And then, all over the city, itinerant time keepers would ring their chimes in echo of the drum beat.

I decided to model the Hantidan schedule of watches after those used by sailors.

Each day possesses seven watches. Five of them are 4 hours long. Two of them are but 2 hours long. This ensures that the sentries rotate through the watches, rather than staying with the same one indefinitely.

Each long watch has eight beats or chimes, each short watch, only four.

Midwatch     midnight – 4 am
Morning Watch     4 am – 8 am
Forenoon Watch     8 am – noon
Afternoon Watch     noon – 4 pm
Aja-watch the First     4 pm – 6 pm
Aja-watch the Second     6 pm – 8 pm
Evening Watch     8 pm – midnight

So…did Hantidan timekeeping come into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth at all? Or was it one of those fun bits of research that never make it onto the page?

I’m not telling! 😉

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

 

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The Baths of the Glorious Citadel

“The Hantidans know how to draw a bath,” Gael agreed.

Although the real benefit of the palace baths might be that a quiet bather could overhear useful gossip.

I must side with Gael on this one. Hantidans do indeed know how to draw a bath. I envisioned the Hantidan bath as resembling those of the Japanese: very deep, very hot, and including a view through a sliding screen of a stylized garden.

If I could visit Hantida right now, their baths would definitely feature in my itinerary!

In the morning, Gael returned to his room from the baths pleasantly relaxed and smelling of herbal soap. Unusually for him, he’d kept thinking at bay during his soak, focusing instead on the physical sensations—the extreme heat of the water Hantidans favored, its depth—well over his shoulders—the scented steam, the beauty of the sunlight on the bamboos right outside the partially open screens.

In spite of their lure, however, I initially categorized the Hantidan baths as an appealing detail of the setting and little more.

But as I moved more deeply into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I realized they served as more than evocative window dressing.

“I heard two gentlemen talking in the baths, gossiping about last night’s accident. Interesting that they classified it as an accident, by the by,” he added.

In the baths, Gael and Keir would learn clues to the mystery they encountered in the Glorious Citadel. They would discover new suspects to question. And Gael would have an informative encounter there.

It was down around a corner of the tile passageway and bigger than the rest of the tubs Gael had seen in the palace, with room enough for four.

Zithilo lounged in one corner of the bath, lanky legs stretched out before him along the tub floor, gaze fixed on a close, engoldened slice of slope visible through the open screen—afternoon was giving way to evening—overgrown by ferns, mosses, and shrubs. He was tall, skinny, and muscular. He didn’t bother to look over his shoulder when Gael’s step sounded in the doorway.

“Get in!” he urged. “The water is fine!”

Gotta stop there to avoid spoilers!

So…what do the baths look like?

Well, the photo at the top of this post shows a bath similar to the one that Zithilo invites Gael to share. And the photo at right has the feeling of the corridor giving onto the individual baths.

The baths were arranged along a narrow side corridor of white tile, a tall and solid wall on Gael’s left, a shoulder-high wall punctuated by a dozen open doorways on his right. Each doorway connected to a small cubical with hooks and a wooden bench, and a farther doorway to a square, sunken tub with a view onto a moss garden.

Steam wreathed the air, along with the scent of herbal soap.

There are many bath houses within the Glorious Citadel, and the approach to each is the standard roofed walkway that runs along the edges of the courtyards and gardens and beside the walls of the pavilions that compose the palace.

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has grown under revision. The first draft came in at 78,000 words. As I write this blog post, the novel stands at over 95,000 words. I’ve edited and revised the first 75,000 of those, so you can see that I am closing in on the end. I hope to send the manuscript out for its next beta read soon!

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

 

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Claireau’s Retreat House

Disaster falls upon Lealle, the heroine of A Talisman Arcane, as she sits at the top of the steps to the retreat house.

She’s finished her lesson in magic and awaits her mother, who intends to shepherd Lealle home in the family brougham-landau. While Lealle waits, the bullies who tormented her in the opening scene of the book arrive and begin their taunts anew.

But it is what comes of this unpleasantness—not the interaction itself—that proves so horrible.

Lealle’s younger brother gets involved in the debacle, and the two kids eventually find themselves back in the waiting room of the retreat house, and then in an examining room.

A later scene features the courtyard garden and the colonnade that surrounds the herbs and flowers.

The floor plan below shows the layout of the retreat’s first floor. The second and third floors hold more examining rooms, as well as a library, study rooms, and personal quarters for a few of the teachers who live on the premises.

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
Wing-clap of the Phoenix

 

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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
Claireau’s Retreat House

 

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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
Wing-clap of the Phoenix
Claireau’s Retreat House

 

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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

 

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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
Wing-clap of the Phoenix
Claireau’s Retreat House

 

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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

 

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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

 

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