The House of Niccolò
The setting is Bruges, in the mid-15th century.
In the dyeshop of the widowed Marian de Charetty, the apprentice Claes, illegitimate child of a Franco-Scottish noble family, is learning his craft.
But Claes is not the lighthearted oaf his friends and contemporaries take him for. Claes forges complicated plans -- and carries them out. And gets into danger. For his own safety, Marian de Charetty sends him with her son to Italy, where the Medicis become aware of him and his unusual talent for numbers and figures
Claes helps the Charetty company establish a courier service and a small mercenary troop. These new activities attract not only the friendly notice of the long-settled Adorne family of merchants, but also the envy of Claes's own family.
Dorothy Dunnett's first book about the House of Niccolò introduces readers to the world of the 15th century. Double-entry bookkeeping has recently been invented, the age of printed books has just begun, the burghers in the growing towns are gaining influence and self-confidence, and the nobility is losing power. Against this background a complicated story plays out, involving an alum deposit which must be kept secret, an apprentice who has much to teach others, and a mysterious Greek with a wooden leg who knows more than he admits to.