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She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.

It is 1158 and the world bears the weariness of late Lent. Soon it will be Easter, which arrives early this year. In the fields, the seeds uncurl in the dark cold soil, ready to punch into the freer air. She sees for the first time the abbey, pale and aloof on a rise in this damp valley, the clouds drawn up from the ocean and wrung against the hills in constant rainfall.

Most of the year this place is emerald and sapphire, bursting under dampness, thick with sheep and chaffinches and newts, delicate mushrooms poking from the rich soil, but now in late winter, all is gray and full of shadows.

Her old warhorse glumly plods along and a merlin shivers in its wicker mew on the box mounted behind her.

The wind hushes. The trees cease stirring.

Marie feels that the whole countryside is watching her move through it.

She is tall, a giantess of a maiden, and her elbows and knees stick out, ungainly; the fine rain gathers until it runs in rivulets down her sealskin cloak and darkens her green headcloths to black. Her stark Angevin face holds no beauty, only canniness and passion yet unchecked. It is wet with rain, not tears. She has yet to cry for having been thrown to the dogs.

©2021 Lauren Groff, published by Riverhead Books