Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The unicorn . . .

A maiden waits in leafy bower
in quiet repose, bound in terror,
long hours gone, her forehead gleams
white, her eyelids droop in dreams
asleep, her hand falls open.
The unicorn, of jeweled eye and jeweled horn,
approaches slowly. With bated breath,
hunters watch the maiden sleep, a little death.
Is she virgin, the hunter hisses. The unicorn
will know: Its nostrils flare,
he dips his head, once, twice he circles lady fair,
then settles down beside her thighs,
thus ensorceled to amazed cries.
As hunters rush the sacred circle,
the maiden wakes to dreams banished;
the unicorn's white, white flesh vanished.



Yesterday we visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the current residence of the Queen here in Edinburgh, and its exquisite abbey. As we walked into the central courtyard, a majestic fountain greeted us, embellished with mythical animals, a lion, griffin, deer, and a unicorn. This castle and accompanying abbey date from the 12th Century. The lion and the unicorn, their past history together uncertain, are paired everywhere, well washed with gold and glitter.

I've long been a fan of Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and the Unicorn, but her book leaves the relationship of the lion and the unicorn unsolved. Once we went to England, we saw the lion and the unicorn everywhere as symbols of royal power. I learned last night that Stirling Castle (just north of Glasgow) has a team of master weavers working on the Hunt of the Unicorn, a set of tapestries, perhaps inspired by the famed 14th Century tapestries currently at the Musee de Moyen Ages, or Cluny, in Paris, the Lady and the Unicorn. Legend suggests these tapestries once were at Stirling Castle. I hope we can go there before our last three weeks in Scotland end.