Excerpt of The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
(Page 8 of 10)
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But his parents regarded the ceremony as vital, if only to ensure the boy a
Christian burial should the worst happen. Master Reed had been about to send for
the shabby, peripatetic priest who served the area.
The Reed family watched in silence as bejewelled fingers wetted their son's
forehead and a voice as velvety-rich as its owner's vestments welcomed him into
the faith, promising him life eternal and pronouncing him "Geoffrey in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen."
"Fen people never say thank you," Adelia apologized, as, carrying her baby, she
joined the prior in his barge, the dog called Ward scrambling in with her,
leaving Mansur to follow in their rowing boat. "But they never forget, either.
They were grateful but amazed. You were too much for them, as if archangel
Gabriel had come down in a shaft of gold."
"Non angeli, sed angli, I fear," Prior Geoffrey said, and such was his fondness
for Adelia that he, who had lived in Cambridgeshire for thirty years, remained
complacent at being instructed in the ways of the fens by this woman from
Look at her, he thought, dressed like a scarecrow, accompanied by a dog that
will necessitate fumigation of the bench it sits on, the finest mind of her
generation hugging her bastard for joy at having delivered a brat into a hovel.
Not for the first time, he wondered about her parentage, of which she was as
ignorant as he. Brought up by a Salernitan couple, a Jew and his Christian wife,
who'd found her abandoned among the stones of Vesuvius, her hair was the dark
blond sometimes seen on Greeks or Florentines. Not that anybody could see it at
the moment, hidden in that unspeakable cap.
She is still the oddity she was when we first met on the road to Cambridge,
Prior Geoffrey thought. I returning from the pilgrimage to Canterbury, she in a
cart, accompanied by an Arab and a Jew. I put her down as their trull, not
recognizing the virginity of a scholar. Yet when I began to bawl in painLord,
how I bawled, and Lord, what pain it wasdespite all my company of Christians,
only she played the Samaritan. In saving my life that day she reduced me, me, to
stammering adolescence by manipulating my most intimate parts as if they were
mere tripes to be cooked. And still I find her beautiful.
She had been obeying a summons even then, brought from her work with the dead of
Salerno to be part of a team in disguise led by the investigating Jew, Simon of
Naples, to find out who was killing Cambridge's childrena matter that seriously
bothered the King of England because it was leading to riot and, therefore, a
depletion of his taxes.
This being England and not freethinking Salerno, it had been necessary for
Mansur, Adelia's servant, to set up as the doctor, with Adelia herself
pretending to be his assistant during their investigation. Poor, good Simoneven
though a Jew, the prior remembered him in his prayershad been murdered in his
search for the killer, and Adelia herself had nearly lost her life, but the case
had been resolved, justice imposed, and the king's taxes restored to his
In fact, so useful had been Adelia's forensic skill in the matter that King
Henry had refused to let her return to Italy in case he should need her again. A
miserly and greedy ingratitude typical of kings, Prior Geoffrey thought, even
while he rejoiced that it had made the woman his neighbor.
How much does she resent this exile? It wasn't as if she'd been rewarded. The
king had done nothingwell, he'd been abroad when Cambridge's doctors, jealous
of a successful interloper, had driven her and Mansur out of town and into the
wilderness of the fens.
Sick and suffering men and women had followed them, and still did, not caring if
treatment was at the hands of foreign unbelievers but only that it made them
Reproduced with permission of Putnam Publishing. Copyright © 2008 by Ariana Franklin All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.