If you remember, in my last post I wrote about a unicorn apocalypse. I described how it might happen, in an American suburb with ornamental pears in the front yards and swimming pools in the back, the azure that swimming pools are in the suburbs. You can imagine unicorns swimming in that azure water.
Well, I read the post again and realized that my unicorn apocalypse wasn’t really mine. It wasn’t in my voice, wasn’t a story I would actually tell or be interested in telling. It was a unicorn apocalypse that anyone could create.
So I started thinking, what would my unicorn apocalypse look like? This may sound silly, but: how would Theodora Goss write a unicorn apocalypse, really?
And I realized that my unicorn apocalypse would take place in fourteenth-century France.
I’m making this up as I go along: my heroine would be Marguerite, the daughter of the local lord, Guillaume du Pré. She’s thirteen and she needs a love interest, so let her have a crush on Henri, the falconer’s son. He’s fifteen and considers himself far too old to be bothered with her.
Where do the unicorns come from? Guillaume has accused Marguerite’s mother, his second wife, of adultery. He married her when he was old and she was young. She bore him a child, but he suspected that she was in love with one of his knights. Guillaume sent him away, on an errand to the king’s court, and now he has shut his wife in the dungeon and intends to have her burned in the middle of the village.
You can already see the French countryside, the castle in the middle of its fields, the forest in the distance. The village close to the castle, its church, its smithy, the dusty streets between houses. Boys leading cows to pasture, chickens pecking whatever they can find. Wives sitting by their front doors, spinning or sewing. The villagers are frightened of Guillaume. He is a hard master, and Marguerite’s mother, whose name should be Lille, is loved in the village.
When she came to the castle, she brought with her, as part of her dowry, a unicorn tapestry. The unicorn is part of her family’s crest. The motto on the crest is “I will come.” (I would have to look that up in French. I think it’s something like “Je viendrai,” but it would have to be in medieval French, of course.)
Unicorns start appearing. They trample the cabbages. (It is fall, I think. I always have to be careful about details, think about when the cabbages will be large enough to pick. Because we live in a society in which there are always cabbages in the stores, and of course that isn’t the case in fourteenth-century France. The loss of cabbages is an important thing, in fourteenth-century France. It means you may not make it through the winter. But when I write, I have to remember, at least approximately, what grows together. And of course, not to put in any vegetables that aren’t grown in Europe until after the discovery of American! But you’re always safe with cabbages.)
There are, of course, attempts to eradicate the unicorns. Marguerite is called into service as virginal unicorn-bait. There are arguments as to who is and is not a virgin. (Some things don’t change in six hundred years.)
The unicorns are dangerous, and they can’t be captured. And they cause a lot of damage. The villagers are caught in the middle of this situation, as they always are: affected by it even though they’re generally sympathetic to Lille. Finally Guillaume decides that he’s simply going to burn her, which should get rid of the problem.
There has to be some sort of dramatic final confrontation, where Lille’s knight rides back and the unicorns appear and Guillaume is speared in the chest with a unicorn horn. But the main story has to do with Marguerite’s experience of this conflict between a father who frightens her and a mother who is beautiful, but whom she barely knows. She herself has been raised mostly by a nurse, and I think I will make her nurse an important character, someone who can tell Marguerite what is happening in the village, how this conflict between nobles is affecting the lives of ordinary people.
That is how I would write a unicorn apocalypse. (How does it end? I’m certainly not going to tell you. Wait for the story, although this one will need a lot of research. Because when I write about fourteenth-century France, I want to get everything right.)
Note: I just found, and had to link to, John Ginsberg-Stevens’ unicorn apocalypse. If anyone else writes a unicorn apocalypse, let me know and I’ll link to it as well!