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
    Paperback:
    Jan 2005, 256 pages

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"Yes, Maman." Claude laughed again—probably at the look on my face. She turned and ran from the room, banging the door behind her. The room echoed with her steps.

I shuddered. I had just tried to seduce Jean Le Viste's daughter.

In the times I'd been to the house on the rue du Four I had only ever seen the three Le Viste girls from afar—running across the courtyard, leaving on horses, walking with a group of ladies to Saint-Germain- des-Prés. Of course the girl by the well was one of them too—if I'd been paying attention I would have understood when I saw her hair and how she held herself that she and Claude were sisters. Then I would have guessed who they were and never have told Claude the story of the unicorn. But I had not been thinking about who she was—I'd been thinking about how to bed her.

Claude had only to repeat to her father what I'd said and I would be thrown out, the commission taken from me. And I would never see Claude again.

I wanted her more than ever, and not just for bedding. I wanted to lie with her at my side and talk to her, touch that mouth and hair and make her laugh. I wondered where she had run to in the house. I would never be allowed in there—not a Paris artist with a nobleman's daughter.

I stood very still, thinking of these things. Perhaps I did so for a moment too long. The woman in the doorway moved so that the rosary hanging at her waist clicked against the buttons on her sleeve, and I stepped back from my thoughts. She was looking at me as if she'd guessed all that was going through my head. She said nothing, though, but pushed the door open and went back in. I followed.

I had painted miniatures in many ladies' chambers—this one was not so different. There was a bed made of chestnut and hung with curtains of blue and yellow silk. There were oak chairs in a semicircle, padded with embroidered cushions. There was a side table covered with bottles and a casket for jewels and several chests for dresses. An open window framed a view of Saint- Germain-des-Prés. Gathered in the corner were her ladies-in-waiting, working on embroidery. They smiled at me as if they were one person rather than five, and I chided myself for ever thinking Claude could be one of them.

Geneviève de Nanterre—wife of Jean Le Viste and mistress of the house—sat down by the window. She had clearly once been as beautiful as her daughter. She was still a handsome woman, with a wide forehead and a delicate chin, but where Claude's face was heart-shaped, hers had become triangular. Fifteen years as Jean Le Viste's wife had straightened the curves, set the jaw, lined the brow. Her eyes were dark currants to Claude's clear quinces.

In one way, at least, she outshone her daughter. Her dress was richer—cream and green brocade, intricately patterned with flowers and leaves. She wore fine jewels at her throat and her hair was braided with silk and pearls. She would never be mistaken for a lady-in-waiting—she was clearly dressed to be attended to.

"You have just been with my husband in the Grande Salle," she said. "Discussing tapestries."

"Yes, Madame."

"I suppose he wants a battle."

"Yes, Madame. The Battle of Nancy."

"And what scenes will the tapestries display?"

"I am not sure, Madame. Monseigneur has only just told me of the tapestries. I need to sit down and sketch before I can say for certain."

"Will there be men?"

"Certainly, Madame."

"Horses?"

"Yes."

"Blood?"

"Pardon, Madame?"

Geneviève de Nanterre waved her hand. "This is a battle. Will there be blood flowing from wounds?"

"I expect so, Madame. Charles the Bold will be killed, of course."

"Have you ever been in a battle, Nicolas des Innocents?"

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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