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The first retelling of the passionate, twelfth-century love story since the discovery of 113 lost love letters between Heloise d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard—the original Romeo and Juliet.
“While I sleep you never leave me, and after I wake I see you, as soon as I open my eyes, even before the light of day itself.” —Abelard to Heloise
Among the young women of twelfth-century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.
But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Notre-Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.
Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.
But, alas, the moon shone full, exposing us to anyone who might pass, and the hour had grown late. We arose and made our way back to the place on the riverbank where we had begun, to retrieve Abelard’s clothing. I sat upon a stone to wring out my hem as, whistling, he dried himself with his cloak. Let God be my witness: I averted my eyes. Yet the grace of his form—his smooth body; the glisten of him, taut curve and sinew, like a Roman sculpture—appears in my mind even now, as though he were a blinding star at which I had stared unblinking.
“Have you seen enough?” he said with a grin. “Or shall I tarry a few moments more?” I looked down at the water, where a glint of light caught my eye. I reached forth my hand and extracted, from the mud, the astralabe.
Behold!” I cried, lifting it up. “My debt is paid.” I offered it to Abelard, but he shook his head.
“There was never any debt, Heloise. That astralabe belongs to you.”
“Non. You must not reward my foolishness with such a gift.”
Frowning, I held the instrument out to him.
He refused it with a laugh. “I bought it for your sake. I had it made for you.”
“For me?” I lifted an eyebrow. “For what purpose?”
“Do you mean to ask what I wanted in return? I have already received far more than I expected.” He winked.
My face burned. “Excuse me, please. I am not usually so . . . demonstrative. You saved my life.”
“Therefore, you kissed me with mere gratitude? I do not think so. I felt much more.” He lifted his eyebrows suggestively and laughed again. “But if that is how you express gratitude, then I will remind you daily how I rescued you from drowning
in the Seine.”
“I cannot accept this gift. Fashioned by the king’s astronomer— this is too dear. You must keep it and bring it to our lessons for us to use together.”
“There will be no more lessons for a while.” We started up the bank together, toward my uncle’s house. The breeze had stopped; the air was as still, now, as my wondering heart.
“No more lessons?” I longed, at that moment, to curl up on the sand, among the vineyards, and close my eyes. “I understand. After the way I have behaved tonight, I cannot blame you.”
“It cannot be helped.”
“You probably despise me, and with good reason.”
“Despise you?” Abelard shook his head. “The opposite is closer to the truth.”
“ ‘Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?’ ” The proverb sprang to my lips. “With my jealousy, I have driven you away.”
“Driven me away? Would that it were so, for then I might have the pleasure of changing my mind and remaining with you.”
Duty called Abelard to his parents’ home in Brittany, he said. His father had become ill, and his condition worsened every day. Abelard must hasten to him, as well as sign the papers giving his brother the lands and title Abelard had forfeited so long ago in embracing the philosopher’s life.
“It is a mere formality,” he said of relinquishing his birthright. “I chose knowledge and wisdom long ago over the life of a lord— the lap of Minerva over the court of Mars, as I like to say.”
“Your father permitted you to choose?” The word coated my tongue like cream.
“My father served as a knight in the court of Anjou, where philosophy and song are revered as highly as God. He might have chosen the scholar’s life for himself, had he not married my mother.”
Abelard halted his steps and turned to me, his eyes bright. “Were you truly jealous of Agnes?”
Heat flooded my face. “Does that amuse you?”
“It delights me. It tells me that you care.”
My pulse throbbed sweetly. Questions filled Abelard’s eyes once more, but I had no answers—only questions of my own.
“I hate leaving you now, when our feelings are only beginning to blossom.” He reached out for my hand and held it as though it were a flower whose petals he feared crushing. “My greatest fear is that, when I return, you might be gone.”
“Gone? But—where would I go?”
“To Fontevraud. Robert of Arbrissel will come to Paris in only a few weeks and might take you back with him.”
“Non. I want to complete my studies with you.”
“Your uncle may try to send you now. He told me so today. A widow named Petronille of Chemillé helped your mother build Fontevraud, and she hopes Robert will appoint her as its abbess. If he does, it will ruin your uncle’s plans.”
Non, I wanted to say. Would Uncle Fulbert force me into the abbey again so soon, sacrificing my happiness on the altar of his ambition?
Unlike Abelard, however, I would not be permitted to choose my fate.
I lowered my eyes. “I am dependent on my uncle and must do as he says.” How could I meet Abelard’s searching gaze, equal to equal, when another ruled me as completely as though I were his slave?
“I must convince Fulbert to keep you with him for a while longer, then. I did promise to help him gain a promotion. Perhaps as his friend I might influence him.”
“He thinks you are friends now. He boasts of it even to the servants.”
“And to every canon in the cloister. You should have seen Bishop Galon’s puzzled frown on the day after Bernard’s sermon. Your uncle told everyone at the dinner with Bernard and the rest that he and I are ‘brothers in intellect.’ ”
“He thought to impress Bernard, I suppose.” I sighed. Didn’t my uncle know how Bernard hated knowledge and learning? While Abelard insisted that questioning could only strengthen one’s faith, the reformists demanded blind obedience to the Church. “He wants so badly to advance. Poor Uncle.”
Mirth filled Abelard’s eyes, but neither of us laughed. At that time, at least, we respected my uncle.
At the door of Uncle Fulbert’s house, Abelard tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, brushing my skin with his thumb and sending a shiver down my arms. He pulled the astrolabe from his pouch and handed it to me in spite of my protests, telling me that he already possessed an astralabe and that he had bought this one especially for me.
Then he pointed upward to that bright and beautiful planet, pink edged in gold on that night. “The loveliest body in the sky cannot compare to the one beside me now, but she will have to suffice. Venus is not difficult to find, except when clouds veil her.”
Using the astralabe, he showed me how to find her in position to the moon, and then in position to the place where we stood.
“I shall gaze at her bright face every night before bedtime and think of you,” he said. “Will you do the same and think of me?”
“Shall I send you messages, too?” I teased. “Would you hear them over the singing of the spheres?”
“That music plays ever in my heart. It commenced on the day we first met and has not ceased.”
Abelard pressed his lips to mine as softly as a sigh, making me forget, again, myself and all I had vowed I would never become. I yielded and submitted until my lips had parted to admit his tongue, whose flavor dissolved me in delicious bliss until we heard the shutters open over our heads. We looked up to see Jean in my window, searching out over the cloister for me. Abelard pressed a finger to my lips and then, after handing me the astralabe, slipped into the shadows and away.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sherry Jones is the author of five biographical fiction books: The Sharp Hook of Love, about the famed 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise; The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, international — and controversial — best sellers about the life of A’isha, who married the Muslim prophet Muhammad at age nine and went on to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam; Four Sisters, All Queens, a tale of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Italy, and White Heart, an e-novella about the famous French “White Queen” Blanche de Castille.