Annunciation – as the Hunt of the Unicorn by Erfurt St. Severi (1470-80)
Excerpt from the manuscript A Lost Gospel
“We are all replaceable.” Glarus shrugged her shoulders. “The world has yet to stop for any man or beast which has ceased to be.”
“Even the gods?”
“Gods become replaced by other gods, yet the world continues.” Glarus slowed her pace. “Changed, of course – but generally for the better.”
“Will Yeshua change the world?”
“If he has not become too much a man.”
Glarus entered a path and started along it to her house. The two women followed her closely, still full of questions.
“What was it like seeing Yeshua?” asked Bettine.
“It was an adventure.” Glarus stopped at her door. “And it was frightening.” She turned to Bettine. “I was younger than you, and had never left the mountain longer than four nights travel.”
“How much younger?”
“I had yet to bleed as a woman.” Glarus opened the door but did not enter. “I was surrounded by strangers, and really had no companion except the unicorn – the sire of these two.” She walked into the house, and the young women followed. “I was given a gift to carry – myrrh – and was treated well.” She took a pitcher of water, and poured some into a metal pot. “I was one of many in the group with the kings.”
Glarus hung the pot over the hearth, and placed a block of wood into the fire.
“I was treated differently because they had gone out of their way to fetch me. No one could speak my language.” Glarus noted the young women were still standing, and bade them onto the bench near the window. “Even with our different accent, Bettine, we have little trouble understanding each other.”
“I have no trouble at all.”
“Their tongues were completely foreign. The man who spoke to me seemed to know the words, but could not put them in proper order.” Glarus paused in memory. “He could say `house’ for instance, but then had to use hand gestures to show me what I was supposed to do about the `house’. Had either of us been particularly stupid, we might still be trying to get into a house.”
“It must have been difficult.” As Bettine spoke, she looked around the house.
“Not really.” Glarus laughed. “I found it more humorous than anything.” She peered into the water. “They were people of good will. I did not mind the hardship.”
“What was he like?”
“The man who could say `house’?” Glarus smiled and pointed her finger. “What are you thinking, Sirona? We did not speak those types of words.”
“Not him.” Bettine was impatient. “Men think so much of themselves, we don’t have to take the time. Sirona was asking about Yeshua. What happened when you finally saw him?”
“What happened is that I slipped in cow shit. I think his father laughed.”
“That’s what you remember?”
“No. That’s not all I remember about Yeshua.”
Glarus eased the lid from the pot, and threw in a handful of spice and dried flowers, plus some dried apple slices. She nudged a burning hunk of wood into place, and returned to her seat.
“The kings had some information, but the rest they had to figure out. They had surrounded themselves with astrologers, navigators and philosophers. They knew from the Jew’s Holy Book that the baby was to be born in Bet Lehem, and the Star helped lead them to that town. It was a virgin birth, and – ”
“Virgin?” Bettine and Sirona squealed the word together.
“Yes – virgin.” Glarus laughed. “So both of you watch out.”
“You make us doomed either way.” Bettine exaggerated a shiver.
“Then you don’t have to worry at all – never fret about the inevitable.” Glarus paused a moment in memory. “We didn’t need the Star the last couple of days, but it had given us comfort during a hard and uncomfortable trip. That last night we waited on the outskirts of the town, and went in after sunset.”
“Were you afraid?” Sirona leaned closer.
“No. Why would I be?”
“You were going to see god.” Bettine glanced at Sirona as she spoke.
“To see god is a joy – not a fear.”
“And was he a baby?” Sirona giggled. “A baby god.”
“It was a time for the paying of taxes to Caesar, and Bet Lehem was crowded with people.” Glarus examined the fire for a moment. “The inns and resting places were fully occupied. We finally found Yeshua and his parents in a barn, beside one of the inns. He was settled with the animals, and sleeping in the hay.”
“But this was a god.”
“But – ” Bettine sounded perplexed. “He should have been in a temple – or a palace. Not surrounded by animals.”
“There are more barns than palaces.” Glarus nudged the wood in the fire with a poker. “And more animals than priests. God is god of the world – not some carved gold in a temple.”
“But god can have whatever he wants.”
“Yes.” Glarus leaned forward and touched the young woman. “So remember what he chose.”
“What was god like?” Sirona was impatient, and pulled on Glarus’ skirt.
“God was the baby of a woman. A baby such as any of us could have.” Glarus looked at them closely. “You must not forget that. This god is as much man as god.” She stood suddenly and leaned toward the fireplace. “He was asleep when we entered. Even his mother was dozing as she held him.”
“What was she like?” Sirona didn’t realize one question interrupted another.
“Her name was Mary.” Glarus removed the pot from the open flame, and placed it upon a squat stone jutting into the hearth. “She smiled as her head nodded – she seemed quite peaceful. She was attractive, but not what one would call beautiful. She didn’t look much older than me.” Glarus looked mildly surprised. “She could still be alive, for that matter. She certainly seemed healthy enough.”
“Did she talk to you?” Sirona leaned forward, the heat of the fire against her face.
“She spoke to the ones who knew her tongue.” Glarus looked down at the women. “But no – not to me.” She suddenly smiled. “I saw her glancing at me a few times, as her husband talked to the others. And she took a liking to the unicorn – as did the baby.”
“Did she – ”
“What I felt most was her bewilderment.” Glarus didn’t realize she had interrupted Bettine. “She must have wondered why rich and powerful people were crowding into a barn to see her son. Giving birth for the first time was enough to get used to.”
“Especially if you had never been with a man.” Sirona grinned at Bettine when she said this.
“Yes.” Glarus laughed. “Being with a man is one of the easier parts.” She looked closely at them. “Not that you two are ready.”
“I feel ready.” Sirona again looked at Bettine.
“I don’t deny your woman’s time has more than come.” Glarus stirred the pot as she spoke. “And you both turn heads, I dare say. But your duty must keep you unentered some years yet.”
“How long did you wait?” Bettine asked the question hesitantly.
“Wait for what?” teased Glarus.
“Wait to get … entered.” Bettine blushed at her question, but was obviously interested. “Were you much older than us?”
“It doesn’t have to be the same for you.” Glarus became serious. “When you know enough, and feel it’s time to start passing on your powers to – ”
“And there’s a man good enough.” Sirona shouted the words.
“That, too.” Glarus laughed. “Though God knows, there are always men about wanting your attention.”
“But when did it happen to you?” Bettine was insistent.
“As I said, it’s different for different people.” Glarus looked directly at the girl. “It would have been ten winters past your age when it happened to me.”
“Isn’t that late?”
“I didn’t know enough.” Glarus saw the look on Bettine’s face and smiled. “I don’t mean about that. And yes, I’d already wanted the feel of a man on top of me.” Glarus paused and stared into the fire. “I didn’t know enough about myself, or about the gods – or about the unicorn. I wanted to know the movements behind what we call life.”
“Did you learn these things?”
“No.” Glarus looked at them again. “I learned there was no one answer, no matter how long I waited.” She spread her hands. “So I stopped waiting.” She was quiet again. “I eventually found I was not going to be like this Mary – with or without a man in me. I can not have children, so I went out and chose the best.”
“Much like god chose Mary,” suggested Bettine.
The women were silent for awhile. Glarus stirred the pot, and tasted the liquid in the ladle. Bettine looked curiously around the house, while Sirona stared thoughtfully at her mother. She was hearing things she had never heard before.
“When did the baby wake up?” Bettine’s question broke into the silence.
“We hadn’t been there long.” Glarus began moving about the room, gathering some mugs together, along with food and utensils. “I think I was the first to notice. I just followed the lead of the unicorn, which already was walking toward him.”
“Did he touch the unicorn?”
“Yes.” Glarus took a loaf of bread from a cupboard, and removed some wedges of cheese from a pottery jar. “It was obvious Mary had never seen such a creature. I don’t think she was afraid, but she was hesitant to let the unicorn get too close to the baby.” Glarus ladled the hot drink into the mugs. “However, Yeshua reached out with his tiny hands, and tried to touch the ivory horn.”
“Did he touch you?” Bettine sipped the drink, and found the fruit tasted as if it were off the tree.
“Mary let me hold him, as she and Joseph prepared some of their food for the kings.” Glarus passed the platter of bread and cheese to the young women. “Food less grand than this. But still, the best of what they had.”
“You held god in your hands?” Sirona marvelled at the secrets she had never heard.
“Yes. While the others ate.”
“What was it like?”
“Damp.” Glarus looked at them both and laughed. “He was a warm and wet little baby, open-mouthed and smiling one moment, squeezing up his eyes in frustration the next. I still had the smell of myrrh on me, and he pushed his face into my breast, making contented baby noises. To the others, it looked as if he were trying to get fed. Joseph said something which made the others laugh.” Glarus chuckled as she took a bite of cheese. “When I finally heard what it was, I smiled too, even though I was embarrassed.”
“What did he say?” Sirona and Bettine asked the question together.
“Well. It’s no secret I’m big up here.” Glarus placed an arm across her chest. “I’ve had too much attention from too many men to let me forget.” Glarus cut more slices from the loaf of bread. “Joseph had said, that if the baby became too used to me, they’d have to use one of the cows after I left.”
“What did you say?” Sirona shared a glance with Bettine.
“It wasn’t my place to say anything. Anyway, I could tell he wasn’t trying to be offensive – or attentive. He was a poor man surrounded by rich and powerful strangers, and he was trying to be accepted.”
“Did Mary say anything?”
“Mary did not push out her garment, even if she was full of milk. After the laughter had stopped, I dared glance at her. She gave a shy smile and shrugged her shoulders.”
“If you hadn’t gone the way you did.” Bettine dipped her mug back into the flavoured drink. “Without following the star and the kings – would you have known Yeshua was a god?”
“No.” Glarus sipped from her mug, then placed it on the table. “But the circumstances were not natural.” Glarus hesitated before cutting more cheese. “The unicorn would not have been present, and I would not have seen them share time.”
“What did he do?”
“Both.” Sirona was excited. “When they were together.”
“They looked at each other with recognition.”
“But – ” Sirona coughed over her drink. “They had never seen each other before.”
“They saw more than just the bodies they possess.” Glarus placed her hands side-by-side on the table, almost touching. “When Mary realized the unicorn would do no harm, she held the baby this close to him. Yeshua reached a grasping little fist toward the ivory horn.” Glarus smiled at the two women. “You know how the unicorns avoid a stranger’s touch.”
“Yes.” They both again spoke in unison, and laughed.
“He bent his head carefully toward Mary, and let the tiny fingers rub against his horn. Yeshua’s eyes went wide as he sniffed him all over. The unicorn pawed in the dirt and the straw, and as much as his face is capable of smiling, I’d swear that he did.
“He didn’t even mind when Mary began to scratch him behind the ears. He moved his head so she could stroke the base of his horn, which he loves most of all.”
“I didn’t know of that place for years.” Bettine absently rubbed her fingers across the table. “I hesitated a long time before I even touched the horn. It can be so cold.”
“They don’t encourage contact,” agreed Sirona.
“Perhaps I was jealous. He encouraged Mary and the baby to do things for which I had waited years.” Glarus looked into the fire a long time. “He showed complete trust amid the strangers and the tumult. Usually, just the smell of humans and other animals make him disappear. This time, he ceased being wary, and concentrated fully on that little baby.”
“And Yeshua?” Sirona stared at her mother. “What did he do?”
“The baby turned his head, and stared at me.” Glarus again hesitated. “It was then I knew that I was looking into eyes which had seen the OtherWorld.”