During the last few months, I’ve given you a few glimpses of the YA mystical fantasy I’m writing, The Unicornologist. I’ve written about The Cloisters, where a key scene takes place (and the setting of the excerpt below); about the Unicorn Tapestries, which also figure large in the excerpt; an overview of the story; and character studies of my heroine and her love interest. Today I share a small snippet from the book.
Alone in the Hall of the Nine Heroes, Hillary glimpsed a flash of color through a doorway. As she stepped closer, she saw a tapestry of a unicorn goring a dog with its horn. Wanting to examine it, she entered the room filled with tapestries of unicorn scenes. She turned slowly in a circle, perusing the four walls. The tapestries apparently told a story, and she struggled to make sense of it.
In the first tapestry, a group of men assembled, carrying spears and restraining dogs on leashes. They appeared to be a hunting party.
The second tapestry showed a fountain with a stream flowing from it. Wild animals waited to drink from it. A unicorn lowered its horn into the water. Why? The hunters approached. One pointed at the unicorn. Another blew his horn.
In the next tapestry, the unicorn attempted to leap out of the spring, while hunters waited on the shore with their spears drawn.
Next, the unicorn finally managed to get on land. Yapping dogs surrounded it. It kicked its rear legs and defended itself with its horn. The hunters tried unsuccessfully to spear it.
The fifth tapestry hung in two fragments. A young woman appeared to be comforting the unicorn, but was she, really? Or was she signaling to a hunter in the distance?
Next, the hunters caught up to the unicorn and wounded it with a spear to its right side. They draped it over a horse to take it back to the castle.
The final tapestry showed the unicorn reclining in a small corral. It was alive, but it bore scars of its attack.
Hillary walked around the room again and studied the tapestries more carefully. Sunlight streaming through the window reflected off polished surfaces in the room. A ray of light suddenly flashed and illuminated the seventh tapestry, The Unicorn in Captivity. It seemed to Hillary that the unicorn turned his head, making eye contact with her, speaking to her. She struggled to hear—was it Help me? No, follow me.
“Follow you? Where?” she whispered.
“Ah, the unicorn speaks to you.”
Hillary whirled around. She’d thought she was alone, but in the shadow of a stone fireplace stood an old man wearing the dark slacks, crisp white shirt and maroon tie of a museum guard.
“He doesn’t speak to everyone, you know,” said the old man. “It’s been many years since he’s spoken.”
The hairs on Hillary’s arms stood up. Her eyes darted toward the door.
“You’ve been chosen. You are the one who will save the unicorn,” said the old guard.
“You are the one who will save the unicorn.”
Okay, this is creepy, thought Hillary. She took a step back and pivoted toward the door through which she’d entered, but stopped cold when she saw the tapestry fragments hanging above the door. “Like her?” asked Hillary, pointing to the tattered tapestry.
“Ah, the virgin.” The old man sighed. “Only the virgin can tame the unicorn. And he will die for the sins of the world because he’s born of a virgin.” He closed his eyes and clutched at his chest as if it pained him to consider this riddle.
Hillary watched him for a moment, wondering if he needed medical attention. Then she became aware of the deep silence surrounding her. She glanced at her watch. “Oh, no! The bus! I was supposed to be on it ten minutes ago!” She wavered, looking to and fro. Should she retrace her steps, or go out the other door?
“That way, Hillary!” said the guard, nodding, his hand still over his heart.
Hillary dashed through the arched door he indicated.
As she scampered along the covered walkway, she suddenly thought, Wait, how did he know my name? She stopped and spun around, ready to go back and ask the old man.
The bus’s horn sounded two sharp blasts. Hillary forgot about the old guard as she raced to her ride.
Mr. Petersen stood at the open door of the bus, tapping his pen against his clipboard. His eyebrow arched when he saw her. “Miss Noone, you’re tardy.”
“Sorry,” she murmured as she boarded the bus. She made her way down the aisle, threading past students who leaned into the walkway, conversing.
“Where the heck were you?” asked Allie, as Hillary plopped down beside her.
“I got sidetracked in the Unicorn Tapestries room.”
“You mean where all those wall hangings were?”
Robin frowned at her. “Something happened.”
Hillary didn’t answer. What can I say? He’ll think I’m crazy.
“Hey, Hillary, are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” pressed Robin.
Hillary looked at the worksheet in her hand. “I didn’t answer all the questions.”
“Don’t worry about it. Nobody did,” said Allie.
Robin said, “If we go through the worksheet together, we can probably come up with most of the answers.”
“What did you get for number one?” asked Allie.
Robin grabbed her paper out of her hand. “Hey, you didn’t answer any of these!”
Allie snatched it back. “I do my best work after the fact.”