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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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 256 pages
    Jan 2005, 256 pages

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"Of course, Monseigneur."

Then Jean Le Viste surprised me. "But not on its own. There are already many examples of the coat of arms alone, here as well as in the rest of the house." He gestured at the arms over the door and hearth, and to some carved in the ceiling beams that I hadn't noticed before. "No, I want it to be part of a larger scene, to reflect my place at the heart of the Court."

"A procession, perhaps?"

"A battle."

"A battle?"

"Yes. The Battle of Nancy."

I kept my face thoughtful. I even smiled a little. But in truth I knew little of battles, and nothing of this one at Nancy, of who had been there, who had been killed, and who had won. I'd seen paintings of battles but never done one myself. Horses, I thought. I would need to paint at least twenty horses to cover these walls, tangled with men's arms and legs and armor. I wondered then what had made Jean Le Viste—or Léon, more likely—choose me for this work. My reputation at the Court is as a miniaturist, painter of tiny portraits of ladies that they give men to carry. Praised for their delicacy, the miniatures are much in demand. I paint shields and ladies' carriage doors for drink money, but my true skill is in making a face the size of my thumb, using a few boar bristles and color mixed with egg white. It needs a steady hand, and that I have, even after a long night of drinking at Le Coq d'Or. But the thought of painting twenty huge horses—I began to sweat, though the room was chilly.

"You are sure that you want the Battle of Nancy, Monseigneur," I said. It was not quite a question.

Jean Le Viste frowned. "Why would I not be sure?"

"No reason, Monseigneur," I answered quickly. "But they will be important works and you must be sure you have chosen what you want." I cursed myself for my clumsy words.

Jean Le Viste snorted. "I always know what I want. I wonder at you, though—you don't seem so keen on this work. Perhaps I should find another artist who is happier to do it."

I bowed low again. "Oh no, Monseigneur, of course I am most honored and grateful to be asked to design such a glorious work. I am sure I am not worthy of your kindness in thinking of me. You may have no fear that I'll put my heart and blood into these tapestries."

Jean Le Viste nodded, as if such groveling were his due. "I'll leave you here with Léon to discuss details and to measure the walls," he said as he turned to go. "I will expect to see preliminary drawings just before Easter—by Maundy Thursday, with paintings by the Ascension."

When we were alone Léon Le Vieux chuckled. "What a fool you are."

With Léon it's best to come straight to the point and ignore his gibes. "My fee is ten livres tournois— four now, three when I finish the drawings, and three when the paintings are done."

"Four livres parisis," he responded quickly. "Half when you finish the drawings, the rest when you deliver the paintings and they're to Monseigneur's satisfaction."

"Absolutely not. I can't work with no pay at the start. And my terms are in livres tournois." It was just like Léon to try to confuse me by using Paris livres.

Léon shrugged, his eyes merry. "We are in Paris, n'est-ce pas? Shouldn't we use livres parisis? That is what I prefer."

"Eight livres tournois, with three now, then three and two."

"Seven. I will give you two tomorrow, then two and three at the end."

I changed the subject—it is always best to let the merchant wait a little. "Where will the tapestries be made?"

"North. Probably Brussels. They do the best work there."

North? I shuddered. I once had business in Tournai and hated the flat light and suspicious people so much I vowed never to go north of Paris again. At least I wouldn't have to do more than paint designs, and that I could do in Paris. Once they were done I would have no more to do with the making of the tapestries.

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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