Excerpt from The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Serpent's Tale

By Ariana Franklin

The Serpent's Tale
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2008,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2009,
    416 pages.

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Lord, I fear for her. Her enemies will damn her for it. Use her illegitimate child as proof that she is immoral, take her before the Archdeaconal Court to condemn her as a sinner. And what can I do?

Prior Geoffrey groaned at his own guilt. What friend have I been to her? Or to her Arab? Or Gyltha?

Until he had himself teetered on the edge of death and been dragged back by Adelia, he had followed the Church's teaching on science that only the soul mattered, not the body. Physical pain? It is God's purpose, put up with it. Investigation? Dissection? Experiments? Sic vos ardebitis in Gehenna. So will ye burn in hell.

But Adelia's ethos was Salerno's, where Arab, Jewish, and even Christian minds refused to set barriers on their search for knowledge. She had lectured him: "How can it be God's purpose to watch a man drowning when to stretch out one's hand would save him? You were drowning in your own urine. Was I to fold my arms rather than relieve the bladder? No, I knew how to do it and I did it. And I knew because I had studied the offending gland in men who'd died from it."

An oddly prim little thing she'd been then, unsophisticated, curiously nunlike except for her almost savage honesty, her intelligence, and her hatred of superstition. She had at least gained something from her time in England, he thought—more womanliness, a softening, and, of course, the baby—the result of a love affair as passionate and as unsuitable as that of HŽlo•se and Abelard.

Prior Geoffrey sighed and waited for her to ask why, busy and important man that he was, he had sailed forth to look for her.

The advent of winter had stripped the fens of leaves, allowing the sun unusual access to the river so that its water reflected back exactly the wild shapes of naked willow and alder along the banks. Adelia, voluble with relief and triumph, pointed out the names of the birds flying up from under the barge's prow to the stolid baby on her lap, repeating their names in English, Latin, and French, and appealing to Mansur across the water when she forgot the Arabic.

How old is my godchild now? the prior wondered, amused. Eight months? Nine? "Somewhat early to be a polyglot," he said.

"You can't start too soon."

She looked up at last. "Where are we going? I presume you did not come so far on the chance of baptizing a baby."

"A privilege, medica," Prior Geoffrey said. "I was taken back to a blessed stable in Bethlehem. But no, I did not come for that. This messenger"—he beckoned forward a figure that had been standing, cloaked and transfixed, at the barge prow—"arrived for you at the priory with a summons, and since he would have had difficulty finding you in these waters, I volunteered to bring him."

Anyway, he'd known he must be at hand when the summons was delivered; she wouldn't want to obey it.

"Dang bugger," Adelia said in pure East Anglian—like Mansur's, her English vocabulary was being enlarged by Gyltha. "What?"

The messenger was a skinny young fellow, and Adelia's glare almost teetered him backward. Also, he was looking, open-mouthed, to the prior for confirmation. "This is the lady Adelia, my lord?" It was, after all, a name that suggested nobility; he'd expected dignity—beauty, even—the sweep of a skirt on marble, not this dowdy thing with a dog and a baby.

Prior Geoffrey smiled. "The lady Adelia, indeed."

Oh, well. The young man bowed, flinging back a cloak to show the arms embroidered on his tabard, two harts rampant and a golden saltire. "From my most reverend master, the lord Bishop of Saint Albans."

A scroll was extended.

Adelia didn't take it. The animation had leeched out of her. "What does he want?" It was said with a frigidity the messenger was unused to. He looked helplessly at the prior.

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.

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