Excerpt from The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lady and the Unicorn

By Tracy Chevalier

The Lady and the Unicorn
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2004,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2005,
    256 pages.

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So that was why she was fat. I turned back to the window. "You should have taken more care."

"I shouldn't have listened to you, is what I should have done. I should have shoved your tongue right up your arse."

"Out you go now, there's a good girl. Here." I dug into my pocket, pulled out a few coins, and threw them onto the table. "To help with the baby."

The girl stepped across the room and spat in my face. By the time I'd wiped the spittle from my eyes she was gone. So were the coins.

Jean Le Viste came in soon after, followed by Léon Le Vieux. Most patrons use a merchant like Léon to act as middleman, haggling over terms, drawing up the contract, providing initial money and materials, making sure the work gets done. I'd already had dealings with the old merchant over coats of arms painted for a chimney breast, an Annunciation for the chamber of Jean Le Viste's wife, and some stained glass for the chapel in their château near Lyons.

Léon is much favored by the Le Vistes. I have respect for him but I cannot like him. He is from a family that were once Jews. He makes no secret of it, but has used it to his advantage, for Jean Le Viste is also from a family much changed over time. That is why he prefers Léon—they are both outsiders who have made their way in. Of course Léon is careful to attend mass two or three times a week at Notre Dame, where many will see him, just as Jean Le Viste takes care to act the true noble, commissioning works for his house, entertaining lavishly, bowing and scraping to his King.

Léon was looking at me, smiling through his beard as if he had spotted a monkey on my back. I turned to Jean Le Viste. "Bonjour, Monseigneur. You wished to see me." I bowed so low my head throbbed. It never hurt to bow low.

Jean Le Viste's jaw is like a hatchet, his eyes like knife blades. They flicked around the room now, then rested on the window over my shoulder. "I want to discuss a commission with you, Nicolas des Innocents," he said, pulling at the sleeves of his robe, which was trimmed with rabbit fur and dyed the deep red lawyers wear. "For this room."

I glanced around the room, keeping my face clear of thoughts. It was best to be so with Jean Le Viste. "What did you have in mind, Monseigneur?"

"Tapestries."

I noted the plural. "Perhaps a set of your coat of arms to hang either side of the door?"

Jean Le Viste grimaced. I wished I hadn't spoken.

"I want tapestries to cover all of the walls."

"All of them?"

"Yes."

I looked around the room once again, more carefully this time. The Grande Salle was at least ten paces long and five wide. Its walls were very thick, the local stone rough and gray. Three windows were cut into one of the long walls, and the hearth took up half of one of the end walls. Tapestries to line the room could take a weaver several years.

"What would you have as the subject, Monseigneur?" I had designed one tapestry for Jean Le Viste—a coat of arms, of course. It had been simple enough, scaling up the coat of arms to tapestry size and designing a bit of background greenery around it.

Jean Le Viste folded his arms over his chest. "Last year I was made president of the Cour des Aides."

The position meant nothing to me but I knew what I should say. "Yes, Monseigneur. That is a great honor to you and your family."

Léon rolled his eyes to the carved ceiling, while Jean Le Viste waved his hand as if he were ridding the room of smoke. Everything I said seemed to annoy him.

"I want to celebrate the achievement with a set of tapestries. I've been saving this room for a special occasion."

This time I waited.

"Of course it is essential that the family coat of arms be displayed."

From The Lady and The Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. Copyright Tracy Chevalier 2003, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Dutton Publishing.

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