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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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I had no choice but to try to sweeten her. "Are you fond of unicorns, Madame?"

One of the ladies-in-waiting giggled. Geneviève de Nanterre frowned and the girl stopped. "I've never seen one, so how would I know? No, it's Claude I am thinking of. She likes them, and it is she as the eldest child who will inherit the tapestries one day. She may as well have something she likes."

I'd heard talk of the family sans heir, of how it must rankle Jean Le Viste not to have a son to pass on his beloved coat of arms to. The blame for having three daughters must lie heavily upon his wife. I looked at her a little more kindly. "What would you have the unicorn do, Madame?"

Geneviève de Nanterre waved a hand. "Suggest to me what he might do."

"He could be hunted. Monseigneur might like that."

She shook her head. "I don't want horses and blood. And Claude wouldn't be pleased if the unicorn were killed."

I couldn't risk suggesting the story of the unicorn's magic horn. I would have to repeat Claude's idea. "The lady might seduce the unicorn. Each tapestry could be a scene of her in the woods, tempting him with music and food and flowers, and at the end he lays his head in her lap. That is a popular story."

"Perhaps. Of course Claude would like that. She is a girl at the beginning of her life. Yes, the virgin taming the unicorn might be the thing. Though it may pain me as much to sit among that as to be amidst a battle scene." She said the last words almost to herself.

"Why, Madame?"

"I will be surrounded by seduction, youth, love. What is all that to me?" She tried to sound dismissive of these things, but she seemed wistful.

She doesn't share her husband's bed, I thought. She has had her daughters and has done her part. Not well either—no sons. Now she is shut off from him and there is nothing left for her. I was not in the habit of pitying noblewomen, with their warm fires and full bellies and their ladies to attend them. But at that moment I felt sorry for Geneviève de Nanterre. For I had a sudden vision of myself in ten years' time—after long journeys, harsh winters, illnesses—alone in a cold bed, limbs aching, hands crabbed and unable to hold a paintbrush. At the end of my own usefulness, what would become of me? Death would be welcome then. I wondered if she thought that.

She was looking at me with her sad, clever eyes.

Something in these tapestries will be hers, I thought in a rush. They will not only be about a seduction in a forest, but about something else as well, not just a virgin but a woman who would be a virgin again, so that the tapestries are about the whole of a woman's life, its beginning and its end. All of her choices, all in one, wound together. That was what I would do. I smiled at her.

A bell rang in the tower of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

"Sext, ma Dame," said one of the ladies.

"I will go to that," Geneviève de Nanterre said. "We've missed the other offices, and I can't go to Vespers this evening—I'm expected at Court with my lord." She rose from her chair as another lady brought over the casket. She reached up, undid the clasp of her necklace, and took it off, allowing the jewels to lie glistening in her hands for a moment before they tumbled into the casket to be locked away. Her lady held out a cross dotted with pearls on a long chain, and when Geneviève de Nanterre nodded she slipped it over her mistress's head. The other ladies began putting away their sewing and gathering their things. I knew I would be dismissed.

"Pardon, Madame, but will Monseigneur agree to unicorns rather than battles?"

Geneviève de Nanterre was rearranging the corded belt at her waist while one of the ladies unpinned her dark red overskirt so that its folds fell to the floor and covered the green and white leaves and flowers. "You will have to convince him."

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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