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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"No, Madame."

"I want you to think for a moment that you are a soldier."

"But I am a miniaturist for the Court, Madame."

"I know that, but for a moment you are a soldier who has fought in the Battle of Nancy. You lost your arm in that battle. You are sitting in the Grande Salle as a guest of my husband and myself. Beside you is your wife, your pretty young wife who helps you with the little difficulties that arise from not having two hands—breaking bread, buckling on your sword, mounting your horse." Geneviève de Nanterre spoke rhythmically, as if she were singing a lullaby. I began to feel I was floating down a river with no idea where I was going.

Is she a little mad? I thought.

Geneviève de Nanterre crossed her arms and turned her head to one side. "As you eat you look at the tapestries of the battle that has cost you your arm. You recognize Charles the Bold being slaughtered, your wife sees the blood spurting from his wounds. Everywhere you see Le Viste banners. But where is Jean Le Viste?"

I tried to remember what Léon had said. "Monseigneur is at the King's side, Madame."

"Yes. During the battle my husband and the King were snug at Court in Paris, far from Nancy. Now, as this soldier, how would you feel, knowing that Jean Le Viste was never at the Battle of Nancy, yet seeing his banners everywhere in the tapestries?"

"I would think that Monseigneur is an important man to be at the King's side, Madame. His counsel is more important than his skills in battle."

"Ah, that is very diplomatic of you, Nicolas. You are far more of a diplomat than my husband. But I'm afraid that is not the right answer. I want you to think carefully and tell me in truth what such a soldier would think."

I knew now where the river of words I floated on was heading. I didn't know what would happen once I moored.

"He would be offended, Madame. And his wife."

Geneviève de Nanterre nodded. "Yes. There it is."

"But that's no reason—"

"De plus, I don't want my daughters to look at bloody carnage while entertaining at a feast. You've met Claude—would you want her to stare at some gash in a horse's side or a man with his head cut off while she's eating?"

"No, Madame."

"She shall not."

In their corner the ladies-in-waiting were smirking at me. Geneviève de Nanterre had led me to just where she'd wanted. She was cleverer than most of the noblewomen I'd painted. Because of that I found I wanted to please her. That could be dangerous.

"I can't go against Monseigneur's wishes, ma Dame."

Geneviève de Nanterre sat back in her chair. "Tell me, Nicolas—do you know who chose you to design these tapestries?"

"No, Madame."

"I did."

I stared at her. "Why, Madame?"

"I've seen the miniatures you do of ladies in the Court. There is something about them that you capture which pleases me."

"What is that, Madame?"

"Their spiritual nature."

I bowed, surprised. "Thank you, Madame."

"Claude could do with more examples of that spiritual nature. I try, but she doesn't listen to her mother."

There was a pause. I shifted from one foot to the other. "What—what would you have me paint instead of a battle, Madame?"

Geneviève de Nanterre's eyes gleamed. "A unicorn."

I froze.

"A lady and a unicorn," she added.

She must have heard me with Claude. She must have heard me or she wouldn't have suggested it. Had she heard me seducing her daughter? I tried to guess from her face. She seemed pleased with herself, mischievous even. If she did know, she could tell Jean Le Viste about my attempt to seduce their daughter—if Claude hadn't done so already—and the commission would be lost. Not only that—with a word Geneviève de Nanterre could ruin my reputation at Court and I would never paint another miniature.

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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