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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Léon gathered his plain brown robe about him—no fur trim for him. "I didn't. If it were my choice I would have someone who has done more tapestries, or go direct to the weaver—they have designs in hand and can work from those. It's cheaper and they are good at the designs." Léon was always frank.

"Why did Jean Le Viste choose me, then?"

"You'll find out soon enough. Alors, come to me tomorrow and I'll have the papers for you to sign, and the money."

"I haven't agreed to the terms yet."

"Oh, I think you have. There are some commissions an artist doesn't say no to. This is one of them, Nicolas des Innocents." He gave me a look as he left.

He was right. I had been talking as if I were going to do them. Still, the terms were not bad. In fact, Léon had not haggled very hard. I wondered suddenly if his terms were still in Paris livres after all.

I turned my eyes to the walls I was to dress so sumptuously. Two months to draw and paint twenty horses and their riders! I stood at one end of the room and walked to the other, counting twelve paces, then walked across, counting six paces. Pulling a chair to one wall, I stood on it, but even reaching as high as I could, I was far from touching the ceiling. I pulled the chair back and, after hesitating a moment, stepped up onto the oak table. I reached up but was still at least my height again from the ceiling.

I was wondering where I could find a long pole to use for measuring when I heard humming behind me and turned around. A girl stood in the entrance watching me. A lovely girl—she had pale skin, a high forehead, a long nose, hair the color of honey, clear eyes. I'd not seen such a girl before. For a moment I couldn't say anything.

"Hello, beauty," I managed at last.

The girl laughed and hopped from one foot to the other. She was wearing a simple blue dress with a tight bodice, a square neck, and narrow sleeves. It was cut well and the wool was fine, but it was not ornate. She wore a plain scarf too, her long hair falling almost to her waist. Compared to the servant who had cleaned the fireplace, she was clearly too fine to be a maid. Perhaps a lady-in-waiting?

"The mistress of the house wishes to see you," she said, then turned and ran away, still laughing.

I didn't move. I've learned from years of experience that dogs and falcons and ladies come back to you if you stay where you are. I could hear her feet slap across the floor of the next room, then stop. After a moment the steps began again and she reappeared at the door. "Are you coming?" She was still smiling.

"I will, beauty, if you will walk with me and not hurry ahead as if I were a dragon you had to flee."

The girl laughed. "Come," she beckoned, and this time I hopped down from the table. I had to step quickly to keep up with her as she ran from room to room. Her skirt flapped, as if she were blown along by a secret wind. Up close she smelled of something sweet and spicy, underlined with sweat. Her mouth moved as if she were chewing something.

"What do you have in your mouth, beauty?"

"Toothache." The girl stuck out her tongue—on its pink tip lay a clove. The sight of her tongue made me hard. I wanted to plow her.

"Ah, that must hurt." I will suck it better. "Now, why does your mistress want to see me?"

The girl looked at me, amused. "I expect she'll tell you herself."

I slowed down. "Why rush? She won't mind, will she, if you and I have a little chat along the way?"

"What do you want to talk about?" The girl turned up a round staircase.

I leapt onto the stair in front of her to stop her from climbing. "What sorts of animals do you like?"

"Animals?"

"I don't want you to think of me as a dragon. I'd rather you thought of me as something else. Something you prefer."

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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