peaceful, sunny spot, the square walkways lined with sculpture, a neatly planted garden of flowers and vegetables and herbs in the centre. On one walkway there was a long line of stone dogs, snouts pointed upwards, howling joyously. I walked all the way round the square, then strolled through the garden, admiring the strawberry plants, the lettuces in neat rows, the patches of tarragon and sage and three kinds of mint, the large rosemary bush. I sat for a while, taking off my jacket and letting the psoriasis soak up the sun. I closed my eyes and thought of nothing.
Finally I roused myself and got up to look at the attached church. It was a huge place, as big as a cathedral, but all the chairs and the altar had been removed, and paintings were hung on all the walls. I'd never seen a church blatantly used as a gallery. I stood in the doorway admiring the effect of a large empty space hanging over the paintings, swamping and diminishing them.
A flash in my peripheral vision made me look toward a painting on the opposite wall. A shaft of light had fallen across it and all I could see was a patch of blue. I began to walk toward it, blinking, my stomach tightening.
It was a painting of Christ taken off the cross, lying on a sheet on the ground, his head resting in an old man's lap. He was watched over by a younger man, a young woman in a yellow dress, and in the centre the Virgin Mary, wearing a robe the very blue I'd been dreaming of, draped around an astonishing face. The painting itself was static, a meticulously balanced tableau, each person placed carefully, each tilt of the head and gesture of the hands calculated for effect. Only the Virgin's face, dead centre in the painting, moved and changed, pain and a strange peace battling in her features as she gazed down at her dead son, framed by a colour that reflected her agony.
As I stood in front of it, my right hand jerked up and involuntarily made the sign of the cross. I had never made such a gesture in my life.
I looked at the label to the side of the painting and read the title and the name of the painter. I stood still for a long time, the space of the church suspended around me. Then I crossed myself again, said, ‘Holy Mother, help me,’ and began to laugh.
I would never have guessed there had been a painter in the family.
I sabelle sat up straight and glanced across to the children's bed. Jacob was already awake, arms around his legs, chin on his knees. He had the best ears of all of them.
— One horse, he said quietly.
Isabelle nudged Etienne.
— A horse, she whispered.
Her husband jumped up, half-asleep, his hair dark with sweat. Pulling on his breeches, he reached over and shook Bertrand awake. Together they slipped down the ladder as someone began pounding on the door. Isabelle peered over the edge of the loft and watched the men gather, clutching axes and knives. Hannah appeared from the back room with a candle. After whispering through the crack in the door, Jean set down the axe and drew back the bolt.
The Duc de l'Aigle's steward was no stranger. He appeared periodically to confer with Jean Tournier and used the house to collect tithes from the surrounding farms, carefully recording them in a calfskin-bound book. Short, fat, completely bald, he made up for his lack of height with a booming voice that Jean tried in vain now to stifle. There could be no secrets with such a voice.
— The Duc has been murdered in Paris!
Hannah gasped and dropped the candle. Isabelle unthinkingly crossed herself, then clutched her neck and looked around. All four children were now sitting up in a row, Susanne perched next to them on the edge, balancing precariously, her belly huge and distended. She'll be ready soon, Isabelle thought, automatically assessing her. Though never used now, the old knowledge was still with her.
Petit Jean had begun whittling with the knife that he kept with him even in bed. Jacob was silent, eyes large and brown like his mother's. Marie