Caprice and Rondo (House of Niccolò Series #7)

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Winter, 1474: In the frozen port of Danzig, Nicholas de Fleury, one-time soldier, merchant, and banker to kings, leads his raffish companions on frivolous, drunken adventures that give little indication of the dark and complex events that have brought him among them - his activities as a spy; his shifts of allegiance from the Duke of Burgundy to the Holy Roman Emperor, and back; the mischief-making at the court of Scotland so vicious that his disgusted friends cast him into justifiable exile. Now, as the ice ...
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Caprice and Rondo (House of Niccolò Series #7)

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Winter, 1474: In the frozen port of Danzig, Nicholas de Fleury, one-time soldier, merchant, and banker to kings, leads his raffish companions on frivolous, drunken adventures that give little indication of the dark and complex events that have brought him among them - his activities as a spy; his shifts of allegiance from the Duke of Burgundy to the Holy Roman Emperor, and back; the mischief-making at the court of Scotland so vicious that his disgusted friends cast him into justifiable exile. Now, as the ice melts in Danzig, Nicholas must decide his own future: Will he make a new life working for the Italian colonies of the Levant? Or assist the great Muslim prince Uzum Hasan in his stance against the Turks? Will he remain in Poland, trading and fighting, or lose himself in the secret, scented gardens of the Crimea? In fact, he could appear to be doing any or all of these things while engaged in his private search for a lost fortune in gold...
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The seventh volume (To Lie with Lions, 1996; The Unicorn Hunt, 1994, etc,) chronicling the extraordinary adventures of Nicholas de Fleury, a Machiavellian 15th-century merchant who is, as this hefty installment opens, still locked in battle with greedy, incompetent kings, a shadowy rival trading empire, and his estranged wife, Gelis, one of a very few figures who have been a match for him in terms of wit, passion, and cunning. Since Nicholasþs efforts to outwit those trying to destroy his influence have made much of Western Europe too hot for him, he turns eastward, toward Russia and the yet more mysterious lands beyond. Dunnett continues to demonstrate a distinctive ability to evoke not just the sights and sounds of the early Renaissance but, more importantly, its mindset; her characters are far more often moved by questions of respect, family (a particularly touchy subject for the mysterious Nicholas), and power than by more mundane emotional upheavals. By novelþs end, de Fleury, an engaging mix of ruthlessness and honor, seems closer to winning Gelis back, has helped preserve yet another kingdom, and has, for the time being, once more outflanked his foes. Those devoted to this unique series will be relieved to hear that it has not yet reached its conclusion.
From the Publisher
"Dazzling--dense, intelligent and subtle--Dunnett has fashioned a vast tale firmly set in her grasp of the early Renaissance world." --Newsday

"Tantalizing--fascinating--a remarkable variety of situations present the reader with complex and volatile imaginings.....The finest living writer of historical fiction." --The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679454779
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/19/1998
  • Series: House of Niccolò Series , #7
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 539
  • Product dimensions: 6.74 (w) x 9.68 (h) x 1.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorothy Dunnett was born in 1923 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Her time at Gillespie's High School for Girls overlapped with that of the novelist Muriel Spark. From 1940-1955, she worked for the Civil Service as a press officer. In 1946, she married Alastair Dunnett, later editor of The Scotsman.

Dunnett started writing in the late 1950s. Her first novel, The Game of Kings, was published in the United States in 1961, and in the United Kingdom the year after. She published 22 books in total, including the six-part Lymond Chronicles and the eight-part Niccolo Series, and co-authored another volume with her husband. Also an accomplished professional portrait painter, Dunnett exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions and had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland.

She also led a busy life in public service, as a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, a Trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival. She served on numerous cultural committees, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1992 she was awarded the Office of the British Empire for services to literature. She died on November 9, 2001, at the age of 78.

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Read an Excerpt

Jingling its way round the shores of the Baltic, the cut-price Mission to Persia intended to enter Danzig in March, having been entertained on its way by the civic leaders of Lübeck, Wisenar, Rostock and Stralsund, and survived the unstinted goodwill of their clubs.

The two leaders were not, of course, unknown to their hosts. Every merchant who had conducted business in Bruges remembered the courtly Anselm Adorne, envoy now of the Duke who ruled Flanders. Others, wincing, had met Adorne's unforgettable companion, the Papal and Imperial Legate. The Patriarch of Antioch had been this way before. Indeed, the unsavoury sandals of Father Ludovico da Bologna had tramped every byway in Europe, raising gold to fight Turkey. Between them, this powerful pair represented the three richest lords in the world, and their retinue, anywhere else, would have been gorgeous. But here, instead of silken banners and servants, soldiers and sumpter wagons of silver and mattresses, the train of the mission to Persia consisted of a number of packmules, eleven stoutly dressed men and, on sufferance, Anselm Adorne's twenty-year-old niece and her bridegroom of three months.

The presence of Katelijne Sersanders and her very young husband had not been part of Adorne's plan. Barely married, newly settled into a delightful small house of her uncle's, Katelijne herself had been equally far from contemplating an immediate journey. Then, on the eve of the mission's departure, Ludovico da Bologna had trotted his mule into Bruges and, before so much as calling on Anselm Adorne, had banged on her door to congratulate her on her marriage.

The Patriarch was over sixty years old, and he andKathi Sersanders had known each other, off and on, for four years. Skipping out to receive him, Katelijne recognised in his manner the same sardonic detachment which had always coloured their dealings. To say she liked him meant nothing: she liked almost everyone. It was a pity that her uncle, tied to the Patriarch for the forthcoming mission, felt differently.

In the meantime, however, she had to admit that she was desperately pleased to see the old ruffian for reasons which Robin would share. She began, however, by laying meat and water before him, the first essential when entertaining Ludovico da Bologna, and only after that did she send for her husband. When he arrived he was scarlet, and she had to pull him down beside her for fear that he would start firing questions at once. Last winter, a man they both knew had vanished. And the last person for certain to see him, so far as they heard, was this priest.

Typically, if the Patriarch noticed their anxiety, he ignored it. Instead, devouring his chops, Father Ludovico put some questions himself. So why, girl, had she decided to marry? And to a Scots lad? (Well, Robin, you've done well out of this, haven't you?) The Patriarch supposed it was because of the gossip: she should never have gone to Iceland, of course, with de Fleury. But there it was, and he supposed they'd do as well as any other silly young couple. Then (switching subjects as Robin showed signs of exploding), how was her uncle? Stiff-necked as ever? Looking forward to five years on the road patronising the natives?

'You'd better find out for yourself,' Kathi had said, kicking Robin. She didn't mind putting up with the Patriarch. She had learned patience the hard way, as maid of honour at the Scots Court, where she had come across the great mercantile family of Berecrofts, and her good-hearted Robin, of the fair hair and fresh skin and compact, athletic build (silly young couple, indeed). Her uncle, elegant aristocrat that he was, approved of her husband. Adorne, although his home was in Bruges, maintained close connections with Scotland, and had been honoured with land by its King. It was land he would not see for some time.

She knew he didn't mind that: after the death of his wife, Anselm Adorne had wanted this mission. Certainly, he disliked being leagued with the Patriarch, whose identical remit he saw as an insult to his own ducal lord. The Patriarch, on the other hand, was engaged on his own private scheme for mustering aid against the Ottoman Turks, and didn't care what Adorne thought, or indeed the Pope, or the Emperor he was supposed to be working for. Ludovico de Severi da Bologna made use of anybody he could find, including brilliant bankers who abandoned their families and vanished.

Further propitiated by beef and dumplings and pudding, the priest was quite ready to talk, in the end, when Katelijne, lady of Berecrofts, carefully opened that particular topic. 'Where's Nicholas de Fleury of Beltrees? Ask the Emperor. I left them both at Cologne in November.'

Robin glanced at her. He was still flushed. He said, 'But M. de . . . But my lord of Beltrees isn't in Germany now. That is, he can't be working for anyone now. He has nothing to offer.'

'De Fleury? Why not? He hasn't got a Bank any more, but he could advise. He could spy. He'd need to, wouldn't he? He has no income, or none that I know of.' The Patriarch lowered his tankard of water. A touch of grease swam on the top.

Robin said, 'But where would he be, if he couldn't work for the Emperor? You were with him. Didn't he tell you his plans?' He sounded angry, for Robin. The Patriarch remained calm.

'No, he didn't. One, he was sick. Two, he didn't mention he was about to disappear. Three, I don't know what he's done to make you so nervous. He had caused, it would seem, some catastrophe, but whatever it was, I can't see our busy friend overwhelmed by remorse. No. He'll have an uncomfortable winter, and get himself a job in the spring. He may even think he can come back and start again.'

'No!' said Kathi.

'Really? As bad as that? People would learn what he had done, or his friends would be compelled to denounce him? Torture, lopped limbs, execution? You wouldn't like to tell me what he has done?'

'No,' said Robin. 'But he knows he can never go back. No one would stand for it. And his wife and son would be dragged into it too. All the same . . .'

'Yes?' said the priest. He put down his spoon. 'All the same what? I must go.'

'Take the tart,' Kathi said. Her hands with her new rings felt cold.

'All the same,' Robin repeated, 'I wish I knew where he was. Can't you make a guess?'

'If you have a napkin. Now that is kind,' said the priest. 'Can't I guess what? Where Nicholas is? I don't need to. Wherever it is, I'll find out before we get beyond Poland. Every friar in the land is looking out for him. And if you want to know where he's going, I'll tell you that, too. To Tabriz. Because that's where I shall be sending him.'

At last, Robin looked at his wife and Kathi drew a short breath and spoke with no patience at all. 'And you imagine he'll go? Has Nicholas de Fleury ever done what you told him before?'

'No,' the Patriarch said. 'But his friends have never flung him out before, have they? What else should he do?'

She sat, watching him lick and holster his knife, and then proceed, with some deftness, to parcel up the thick, sticky tart. He got out his satchel. Robin said, 'If Kathi's uncle allowed it, would you mind if I came on this mission?'

The priest got to his feet, satchel in hand. 'To Persia? Really? Through Poland, round the Black Sea, across the land of the Crimean Tartars, south through Georgia and into Tabriz? My dear boy, what a glutton for travel!'

Robin was not put off by mockery. 'Not so far. At least I hope not so far. To wherever M. de Fleury has stopped.'

'And what good will it do if you find him? You'll hand him pretty notes from the child, and he'll pine, or come back and be killed.'

'It is not for him,' Robin said. 'It is for me.'

The Patriarch's eyes, under their spirited brows, relaxed their stare. He said, 'Well, that's frank enough. I tell you what, then.' Father Ludovico bent and lifted his satchel. 'Adorne may not agree. But I'd take you to hunt for de Fleury. You might shame the brute into repentance. He needs to take a look at what's happening in Caffa. He needs to be frightened into doing God's work in Tabriz. You come and tell him, my boy.' And baring a set of frightening teeth, he departed.

Alone with Robin that night, Kathi returned again to the argument they had been having all evening, and which she knew she would win in the end. 'If you go, so do I. Nicholas won't forget what he has done, but you might.' She spoke wryly. Despite what the Patriarch rightly called the catastrophe, she could not expect Robin to throw aside years of hero-worship; to dismiss this unpredictable, this extraordinary man who would choose, if he felt like it, to risk his own life for theirs, and yet would destroy, they now knew, just as wantonly.

'You think he should be induced to go east?' Robin said. 'For the sake of the Patriarch and the Church? Into a porridge of Ruthenians and Tartars and Mongols, Turcoman bandits and Turks who have four wives apiece and eat horses?'

'He might enjoy some of it,' Kathi said. 'Look. He has a life to fill. It may as well have a purpose.'

'And Nicholas is supposed meekly to go wherever the Patriarch
wants him?'

'I think,' said Kathi, 'that would be unrealistic. I think the Patriarch's pushing, not pulling, and he wants you as his floppy-eared beater. You're supposed to flush Nicholas out, and drive him painlessly east, at the trot.' She gave an involuntary shiver.

Robin moved, and was still. They had an arrangement; or rather he had, with himself. Kathi put her hand into his. She said, 'We'll go together. I'll speak to my uncle tomorrow . . . My bed looks very cold. Who will warm it?'

It was not easy, that interview the next day. Departure was close, and Anselm Adorne was preoccupied with the needs of his journey, and of the family, grown and half-grown, he was leaving behind. Also, his travelling companion the Patriarch of Antioch had called, unacceptably late and no more agreeable than he had ever been. When Kathi found him, her uncle was grim.

Katelijne Sersanders of Berecrofts might look like a child half her age, but she thought and felt like an adult. In asking her favour, she was conscious of the factors against her. Her abundance of energy (her uncle could say) was deceptive, and her health fragile. She should be settling to marriage, as Robin ought to be fostering his grandfather's business. And lastly, of course, it was outside common decency that Nicholas de Fleury should claim her thoughts or her time. Deceived by the man whom he had watched growing from boyhood, Anselm Adorne was attempting to forget de Fleury, and so she must, too.

Despite all of that, Kathi Sersanders sat by her uncle's desk and put her proposal, and hard man though he could be, her uncle gave her the courtesy of a hearing. A just magistrate, a Flemish-Italian merchant prince with generations of Genoese nobility behind him, Anselm Adorne had not lightly given in, either, when his niece had proposed to marry young Robin. But he was fond of her, and he respected her judgement, and Scotland had offered security. Or so it had seemed to him then. So now, Adorne said, 'It is Robin, not you, who wants to find and speak to de Fleury?'

'I shouldn't stop him,' she said. 'Robin was his page, then his squire. He can't forget. He needs to speak to Nicholas; to satisfy himself over what has happened.'

'And you?' her uncle asked.

She had not been dazzled, like Robin, by the compendium of assorted delights which made Nicholas at first sight so winning. She had been a critical admirer, a fellow lover of music and, latterly, unexpectedly, a friend. Until the catastrophe. She said, 'Now I think Nicholas is best left alone.'

'Certainly, that would be my opinion,' her uncle observed. He did not elaborate, but he was thinking, she knew, of his task. This mission would be thorny enough, without inviting more trouble. Resentful of Adorne, Nicholas might be stirred, if resurrected, to find ways of obstructing the mission. And while he was free to impugn whom he wished, Adorne's hands were tied. For what Nicholas had done had not been made public, and would not be, for the sake of his victims.

She said, 'I want this for Robin, not myself. Nicholas may never appear. He may not want to be found, or he may not be where the Patriarch thinks. I don't intend to wander for ever, but I do want Robin to feel that at least he has tried. And if Nicholas is still alive, I can't believe that he would harm you. Although, of course, no one can be sure.'

'No,' her uncle said. He paused. 'You would not think of letting Robin travel without you?' Then, as she looked at him in silence, he answered his own question. 'No.'

She wondered if he understood, and thought that he probably did. If Robin went, she must go, and not simply because they were newly united. The truth was that she would be twenty-one in November, while Robin was three years her junior. Soon, the difference would fade, and they would live the span of their lives as contemporaries, lovers and friends. But first, they had to secure the form of their union.

It had never been her ambition to wed. She would not have done
so, had she not seen within this sweet-tempered man all the promise of just such a future. But, wise as Robin was, it was for her, in these first weeks, to shape from intangibles -- dreams, thoughts, sensations -- the image of the marriage that they were going to have. She was not alone, for he was aware of it, and helped her as he could. There was a precedent.

Adorne said, 'I am not sure that it is wise. But I trust your good sense, and I would not have Robin waste his life mourning a scoundrel. Come with me, then. Let Robin satisfy himself, if he must, and bring you back to your own home, and your own life. Nicholas de Fleury has had his chance, and is worth no one's pain now.'

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, historical background, and author biography are designed to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Dorothy Dunnett's eight bestselling novels in the House of Niccolò. We hope this guide will enrich your experience of these intriguing and adventuresome works of historical fiction.

1. For Discussion: Caprice and Rondo

A single exchange of letters, puzzles, music and numbers, constitutes the only adult meeting of Nicholas and his grandfather, Thibault de Fleury. What do you think of this brilliant and enigmatic figure? How does he help change the relationship between Nicholas and Gelis? Do you think he foresaw or intended this consequence?

2. Dorothy Dunnett puts Hans Memling's massive and elegant painting of "The Last Judgement" to many uses in the novel; one of them, surely, symbolic of the protagonist. In what respects does Nicholas fit each category in the painting, the Elect, the Saved, the Damned? What are the signs of a self destructive spirit, of a redeemable spirit, in him in the first half of the novel?

3. Two of the men who have vexed and manipulated Nicholas de Fleury for decades become humanized, their motives clarified, during the course of Caprice and Rondo. What view emerges, finally, of the subtle Greek aristocrat Nicholai Giorgio de' Acciajuoli? Of the boisterous Latin Patriarch Ludovico da Bologna?

4. Two nations-in-the-making come to grief in this novel--one in the East, one in the West. A new Persia might have consolidated itself in a Western-assisted strike at the Turkish empire, a new Burgundy might have arisen to dominate the European heartland from the North Sea to the Middle Sea. How much are these failures a matter of the tides of "history"? the sway of political interests? the imperfections of key individuals? How do these failures affect the life of Nicholas?

5. What does Anna want from Nicholas, and why? How does she produce the opposite of what she wants? Or does she, in the end, get what she wants? How is her "caprice" a "rondo" of Gelis's actions in the previous novel?

6. Throughout the eight books of the House of Niccolò, a series a picture emerges of Sophie de Fleury, the mother of Fro.
For Discussion: The House of Niccolò, Nicholas, and of her centrality in the life of her son. Can you put this picture together now -- the Sophie of rumor and gossip, the Sophie of Nicholas's slowly revealed memories, of his maturer judgement, of Andro Wodman's reporting? Are there still some mysteries and obscurities in this portrait?

7. The House of Niccolò series offers a sustained and in many ways highly sophisticated version of the changes in intellectual, political and psychological structures which mark the transition from the medieval to the modern world. But like any good set of historical novels it abounds too in individual scenes and characters of great emotional, dramatic, and visual power, or stylistic verve, "set pieces" which hang in the memory even longer, perhaps, than the plot or the author's philosophy of history. What are some of your favorites here--scenes of comic impact or tragic illumination? Best-drawn villain or victim, most vexatious female adolescent? Most breathtaking fight or chase? Most engrossing moment of romance? Most stunning surprise?

8. At the opening of the second volume of the series, and at the closing of the last volume, the voice of an astrologer-character replaces that of the novelist-narrator. What do you make of this--some invitation to compare and contrast those two professions?

9. Some readers will have come to the Niccolò series after reading the Lymond Chronicles, to which they are a 'prequel'; others have now finished the Niccolò series and will go on to the sequel, the Lymond Chronicles. What are some of the dividends of doing it the first way? The second way? How (after a reading of both) are these two heroes, these two worlds, these two intricate plots, alike and different?

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