As promised, this week we return to the bas-de-pages* of British Library MS Royal 10 E, AKA the “Smithfield Decretals” for a quick lesson in unicorn ecology. As you might have heard, there’s only one surefire way for humans to hunt a unicorn. But on the off chance you haven’t, here’s a quick primer: what you need above all else is a willing maiden who’ll sit serenely in a meadow or forest clearing where unicorns are known to frolic. While the maiden does her thing, grab a long spear and go hide behind a tree until a unicorn happens upon the aforementioned maiden. Since unicorns cannot resist laying their heads in the laps of maidens, all you have to do is wait for the proper time and let loose with the pokey spear. Like so:
All this is so well-known as to be almost unworthy of mention at all–so imagine my surprise when I discovered the illuminator responsible for the pictures in the Smithfield Decretals advanced a wholly novel method of unicorn dispatching. Bears!
Bears 1, Unicorns 0. Suck it, maidens.
Now you may be telling yourself, “Self, we shouldn’t be afraid of bears. We probably taste nothing like a unicorn.” That’s what I told myself, certainly, until I flipped around a little bit in the manuscript and found this idyllic picture of some monkeys cavorting with stuff they stole from a traveler’s pack.***
What’s so sinister about monkeys and their stolen treasures? Well, they distract our poor monkeys from…
Bears!!! Ah! Even monkeys aren’t safe from these ravenous death machines. But, yeah, yeah, I know, you guys aren’t monkeys. Why should you fear? Well, why don’t you ask this fair maiden here? Seems safe, doesn’t she, so well protected by that strapping knight–but, wait, where’s he going? Don’t go away Mr. Knight…
Ah!!! Bears!!! Poor, poor maiden. This is why you should never let a knight out of your sight. (On account of the bears, you see.)
And what does Mr. Fancy Pants Knight have to say for himself? Where is our hero?
Oh. It seems he was otherwise occupied. (But at least not by bears!)
*Fancy talk for “bottom of the page”!**
**Though perhaps it should be “bottoms of the page”. Like attorneys general. Or maybe “bottoms of the pages”?
***It’s a manuscript monkey thing. They can’t resist travelers’ packs. Monkey see monkey do and all that.