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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"So, what do you know about the battle at Nancy?" Léon asked.

I shrugged. "What does it matter? All battles are the same, non?"

"That's like saying that all women are the same."

I smiled. "I repeat—all battles are the same."

Léon shook his head. "I pity your wife one day. Now tell me, what will you have in your tapestries?"

"Horses, men in armor, standards, pikes, swords, shields, blood."

"What will Louis XI be wearing?"

"Armor, of course. Perhaps a special plume in his helmet. I don't know, in truth, but I know people who can tell me that sort of thing. Someone will carry the royal standard, I expect."

"I hope your friends are cleverer than you and will tell you that Louis XI was not at the Battle of Nancy."

"Oh." This was Léon Le Vieux's way—to make a fool of all around him, excepting his patron. You did not make a fool of Jean Le Viste.

"Bon." Léon took out some papers from his pocket and laid them on the table. "I've already discussed the contents of the tapestries with Monseigneur and done some measuring. You'll need to do them more precisely, of course. Here." He pointed to six rectangles he had roughly sketched. "There's space for two long ones here and here, and four smaller. Here is the sequence of the battle." He explained the battle carefully, suggesting scenes for each of the tapestries—the grouping of the two camps, the initial strike, two scenes of battle chaos, then the death of Charles the Bold, and the triumphant procession of the victors. Though I listened and made sketches of my own on the paper, part of me stood apart and wondered at what I was agreeing to do. There would be no women in these tapestries, nothing miniature and delicate, nothing that would be easy for me to paint. I would earn my fee with sweat and long hours.

"Once you've made the paintings," Léon reminded me, "your work is done. I'll take them north to the weaver, and his cartoonist will enlarge them to use for the weaving."

I should have been pleased that I wouldn't have to paint the horses large. Instead, however, I became protective of my work. "How do I know that this cartoonist is a proper artist? I don't want him making a mess of my designs."

"He won't change what Jean Le Viste has decided on—only changes that will help the design and making of the tapestries. You haven't done many tapestries, have you, Nicolas? Only a coat of arms, I believe."

"Which I scaled up myself—I had no need of a cartoonist. Surely I'm capable of doing so on this commission."

"These tapestries are a very different matter from a coat of arms. They will need a proper cartoonist. Tiens, there's one thing I forgot to mention. You'll need to be sure there are Le Viste coats of arms throughout the tapestries. Monseigneur will insist on that."

"Did Monseigneur actually fight there?"

Léon laughed. "Undoubtedly Jean Le Viste was on the other side of France during the Battle of Nancy, working for the King. That doesn't matter—just put his coat of arms on flags and shields that others carry. You may want to see some pictures of that battle and others. Go to Gérard the printer on the rue Vieille du Temple—he has a book he can show you of engravings of the Battle of Nancy. I'll tell him to expect you. Now, I'll leave you to your measurements. If you have problems, come and see me. And bring the drawings to me by Palm Sunday—if I want changes you'll need enough time to get them done before Monseigneur sees them."

Clearly Léon Le Vieux was Jean Le Viste's eyes. I had to please him, and if he liked what he saw, Jean Le Viste would too.

I couldn't resist a last question. "Why did you choose me for this commission?"

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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