TIME OF THE UNICORN by Barbara Jefferis


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Sin and its community expiation, its survival and its price, is the focus of this period tale about 12th century shipwrecked English peasants and Norman aristocrats tossed up on the shore of Portugal while Crusade-bound. The Lady Eleanor, an austere ascetic who had taken the Cross, subtly assumes charge of the group of 13. The ill-matched party, disciplined to sharing, scrounges through the barren countryside, one step away from starvation, but fears and guilts are gathering. The elderly priest all but undone by physical weakness and his near impotence under the burden of the group's spiritual welfare, manages Mass with makeshift bread, and attempts to cope with the fornication of a recently widowed girl as well as the open adultery of Lady Clodagh, the lively young wife of a Crusader. Pagan or Christian, propitiation is still the spindly bridge between God and man, and the peasants use a captured kid as a scapegoat. But there is also a hint of cannibalism and a mushroom of strange properties. Eventually the company is saved, but another scapegoat is demanded. Clodagh is accused as a witch and expediently condemned, for it is a matter of ""the single sparrow against the whole of Christendom."" A morality tale -- as stark, severe and chilling as a ruined priory.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1974
Publisher: Morrow