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 by Tracy Chevalier X
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 256 pages
    Jan 2005, 256 pages


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"But—surely you should tell him yourself, Madame. After all, you were able to get him to agree to have me do the designs."

"Ah, that was easy—he cares nothing about people. One artist or another means little to him, as long as they are accepted at Court. But the subject of the commission is between him and you—I am meant to have nothing to do with it. So it is best if he hears from you."

"Perhaps Léon Le Vieux should speak to him."

Geneviève de Nanterre snorted. "Léon would not go against my husband's wishes. He protects himself. He is clever but not cunning—and what is needed to convince Jean is cunning."

I frowned at the floor. The dazzle of the designs I would make had blinded me, but now the difficulty of my place was sinking in. I would prefer to design a lady and a unicorn over a battle with its many horses, but I did not like to go against Jean Le Viste's wishes either. Yet it seemed I had no choice. I'd been caught in a web woven between Jean Le Viste and his wife and daughter, and I didn't know how to escape. These tapestries will bring me to grief, I thought.

"I have a cunning idea, Madame." The lady-in-waiting who spoke was the plainest but had lively eyes that moved back and forth as she thought. "In fact, it's a punning idea. You know how Monseigneur likes puns."

"So he does," Geneviève de Nanterre agreed.

"Visté means speed. The unicorn is visté, n'est-ce pas? No animal runs faster. So when we see a unicorn we think of Viste."

"Béatrice, you're so clever—if your idea works with my husband you may marry this Nicolas des Innocents. I will give you my blessing."

I jerked my head. Béatrice laughed, and all the women joined her. I smiled politely. I had no idea if Geneviève de Nanterre was joking.

Still laughing, Geneviève de Nanterre led her ladies out, leaving me alone. I stood still in the quiet room. I should find a long pole and go back to the Grande Salle to begin measuring again. But it was a pleasure to stay here, with no ladies smirking at me. I could think in this room.

I looked around. There were two tapestries hanging on the walls, with the Annunciation I had painted for the room next to them. I studied the tapestries. These were of grape harvesters, men cutting the vines while women stamped on the grapes, skirts tucked high to reveal their spattered calves. They were much bigger than the painting, and with less depth. The weave made them look rough, and less fleshy and immediate than the Virgin in my painting. But they kept the room warm, and filled more of it with their vivid reds and blues.

A whole room full of these—it would be like making a little world, and one full of women rather than the horses and men of a battle. I would much prefer that, no matter how hard it would be to convince Jean Le Viste.

I glanced out of the window. Geneviève de Nanterre and Claude Le Viste were walking with their ladies toward the church, their skirts blowing about them. The sun was so bright that my eyes watered and I had to blink. When I could see again they were gone, replaced by the servant girl who carried my child. She held a basket and was plodding in the other direction.

Why did that lady-in-waiting laugh so hard at the thought of marrying me? Though I had not yet given much thought to marrying, I'd assumed I would one day have a wife to look after me when I was old. I had a good standing in the Court, steady commissions, and now these tapestries to keep me and any wife. There was no gray in my hair, I had all but two of my teeth, and I could plow thrice a night when the need arose. It was true that I was an artist and not a squire or rich merchant. But I wasn't a blacksmith or cobbler or farmer. My hands were clean, my nails trim. Why should she laugh so?

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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